Fall at SAIC

An exterior of a stone campus building with blue flags saying School of the Art Institute of Chicago blowing in the wind

Photo: Greg Stephen Reigh (BFA 2013)

Photo: Greg Stephen Reigh (BFA 2013)

by Rowan Beaird

Every new school year brings with it a sense of promise.

Though the pandemic means that it’s still not business as usual at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), our community is finding new ways to connect and create. 

We talked to several community members about what’s giving them energy this school year—their passions, their goals, and how they’re continuing to make SAIC home.

Shreya Agarwal
Member of Student Government

What’s one of your goals for the coming school year? 
This semester, a goal of mine is to take advantage of the access to facilities I have and make the most of my time at SAIC. As a senior in the Visual Communication Design department, I never really experimented with the 3D printer or in the laser cutting labs, so I hope to explore the possibilities of making and will be experimenting in the Advanced Output Center (AOC).

How are you striving to build community with your peers and faculty? 
After a year of mostly online classes, I'm hoping to build community by attending and contributing to the programs happening on campus. I look forward to attending student group events, hosting events with Namaste SAIC, and connecting with artists and professors via the various lecture series. 

Do you have any advice for new or returning students who are on campus for the first time? 
All our school buildings have hidden treasures. There's the Joan Flasch Artist Book Collection in Sharp, Career and Professional Experience (CAPX) in MacLean, the AOC in Sullivan, and the multiple shops in 280. I encourage new and returning students to visit all offices of interest and ask questions, get involved, and find your space in the community. SAIC has a lot to offer, and everyone is extremely welcoming, so don't be afraid to explore!

Student sitting on a campus lawn in front of a wide street

Students at the Welcome (Back) BBQ. Photo: Greg Stephen Reigh (BFA 2013)

Students at the Welcome (Back) BBQ. Photo: Greg Stephen Reigh (BFA 2013)

Eric Fuertes
Lecturer and Assistant Director of Sculpture Facilities

What advice would you give to a student just beginning their journey at SAIC? 
Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three, think big, you can still see the stars in the city, love the process, be confident, get sleep, eat, don’t worry, you will catch a break, clean up, wear layers, fail, I’m here for you, you belong here, and use your powers for good. 

What’s a piece of art that’s giving you inspiration for the school year ahead? 
Jefferson Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” makes me get out of bed every morning. 

What’s one of your favorite fall events or rituals at SAIC? 
The week just before Critique Week. After 9:00 p.m., all classes have ended. The shops are closed. The classrooms are bursting with art. Everyone is much more gracious with each other because they’ve grown with one another. There is a stillness to the space. Faint sounds of tinkering and thoughts fill the air. This moment is the most precious within the community. The liminal space between the start and the end of things coming together, or not. It’s the most vulnerable of times and the most revolutionary. 

“SAIC has a lot to offer and everyone is extremely welcoming, so don't be afraid to explore.”

Elissa Tenny

What’s one of the things you’re most excited about for this school year?
It’s getting to connect with people in the same space again. As long as we are able to do it with care—with masks and vaccinations and shared responsibility—having more students, faculty, and staff around making, working, and learning is a wonderful sight. It's what we’re built for. I don't just mean SAIC’s great facilities. I mean all the ways people build belonging by sharing space and affection. Events where we gather like the Welcome (Back) BBQ and the student-organized Korean Cultural Festival, which both took place outside, were powerful reminders that we’ve been doing without space, mass, proximity, and all these physical aspects of human connection while we were more socially distant.

Even with more people returning to campus, many events and classes continue largely in a hybrid in-person/virtual form. Do you think SAIC students, faculty, and staff are staying connected?
One of the most remarkable things about moving online was the new way we learned to approach the classroom—and even office work. Faculty came up with innovative ways of teaching. Some students have told me they prefer learning online, as it’s more accessible. It’s smart and compassionate to embrace all of the tools we have. For example, I’ve been able to offer an option of meeting in person or virtually for my office hours this semester. It’s also inevitable that what we’ve learned will have a lasting impact on long-range planning at SAIC.

What are you reading or learning about right now?
I am part of a book club through The Chicago Network, a group of local women leaders in businesses, nonprofits, and schools, and we recently read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. The novel tells the story of African American twin sisters who form very different racial identities, and consequently very different lives, as they age. The bestseller is a swift, page-turning read, but it also dwells in the complexities of colorism and privilege within a Black community that’s an important contribution to society’s reckoning with anti-racism.

I also think there’s a lot to be gained from the group exhibition Earthly Observatory that’s on view through December 3 at SAIC Galleries. Curated by faculty members Giovanni Aloi and Andrew  Yang, the show features the work of many artists—including several alums and faculty members—investigating the ways people are intertwined with the planet. Not only is it very educational—in terms of the scientific and political issues the artworks engage with—it’s also a very compelling aesthetic experience that’s emotionally resonant.

An exterior of a modern stone campus building emblazoned with a blue SAIC logo beneath trees

Photo by Greg Stephen Reigh (BFA 2013)

Photo by Greg Stephen Reigh (BFA 2013)

Andrew Yang
Professor and Chair of Faculty Senate

As our events and classes continue in a hybrid in-person/virtual form, how are you staying connected to SAIC students, faculty, and staff? 
Because the pandemic continues, the policy of having a vaccination requirement for all students, faculty, and staff makes a world of difference in reconnecting. It gives everyone the confidence to be back on campus more regularly, engaging with each other in real space. I have been at School more in the past 10 days than I had been all last year teaching—visiting SAIC Galleries exhibitions, in the classroom, and even just running into people on the sidewalk. I continue to mainly see colleagues online, but at least most of us have some shared experience of our embodied campus life again too. 

What’s one of your favorite fall events or rituals at SAIC? 
Strangely enough, add/drop! After that, I know with certainty who I will be learning with during the semester. 

How has your approach to teaching changed since last year was mostly remote, and we had to rethink how to teach and learn in a Zoom environment? 
Like last year, I am trying to be flexible and responsive as the situation continues to be in flux, but also trying to thoughtfully embrace the possibilities of "bodies in space" as an experiment. In a course I am team-teaching with Professor Claire Pentecost called Symbiosis: Creativity through Connectivity, we had students "performing" what symbiosis is in small groups. Of course, symbiosis means living together, and the question is how we live together and relate in these new circumstances of sociality, where we are together and yet still needing to be cautious as a matter of caring for ourselves and the larger community we are embedded within. ■

{{[http://www.saic.edu/news/campus]CAMPUS}} {{[http://www.saic.edu/news/facultystaff]FACULTY & STAFF}} {{[http://www.saic.edu/news/students]STUDENTS}} {{[http://www.saic.edu/news/artconnectsus]ART CONNECTS US}}