A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

From the President

President Elissa Tenny photo

Art is essential. Especially now, when there’s so much that seeks to divide us. Even the global pandemic—the worldwide impact that should draw humanity closer together—exacerbates division. Health guidelines demand we maintain social distance. Deep-seated racial injustice is exposed in all its structural insidiousness. Streams of editorialized information, algorithmically tailored by our digital footprint, erode the public trust. And yet, there are forces in our shared society that encourage connection, repair, and healing. Art is one of those forces.

Shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) began publishing Art Connects Us, a digital newsletter profiling the ways in which SAIC artists, designers, and scholars have used their talents to understand the effects of the pandemic and alleviate some of its harms. Our faculty, staff, students, and alums have made socially distanced exhibition sites, created artworks in response to the pandemic, produced face masks and shields, and addressed systemic racism. This issue of our magazine continues that exploration.

Through these articles, you’ll learn about art’s connection to place—where it is made and where it is encountered—through the work of Maria Gaspar, a faculty member and Chicago native, whose practice encompasses gallery installations and collaborative public works, like her projects with incarcerated individuals. During last spring’s campus-wide move to online classes, students made connections through the shared language of Zoom video and augmented reality, imagining a post-COVID world. In addition to the art we make, this issue also features administrative and co-curricular initiatives—such as our new Anti-Racism Committee or Dean of Career and Professional Experience Rosalie Shemmer’s advice on job-seeking in a challenging economy—that seek to make our community and its members whole. Each of these examples of SAIC artists’, designers’, and scholars’ talent and wisdom is a testament to art’s ability to unite us.

Art allows us to see the world—at its best and at its worst—and begin to collectively comprehend it. It’s a prism, refracting the breadth of human experience into images and actions through which we can perceive another’s vision. Studying art, we learn what values have changed, and which have remained, throughout human history. Making art, we reveal new ways of being and find innovative solutions to our most intractable problems. At its best, art creates a space of connection—if not always a space of agreement—where we encounter and experience together. At SAIC, we’ve been making this space, in good times and bad, for more than 150 years. In this issue of our magazine, I am so proud to share with you how art truly does connect us today.

Elissa Tenny