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

The Work We Did Together This Year

Dear SAIC Community,

Last week, I was honored to join the class of 2019 in hearing Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s (HON 2019) Commencement address. In her inspirational speech, she delivered sage advice to our newest alums by recounting eureka moments in her career-long practice as a “maintenance artist.” Ukeles proffered a communitarian vision for art, emphasizing its power to unite, repair, and heal by drawing attention to those who perform the underseen labor that makes our society run. Our campus is like that, too. In addition to the teaching, learning, and artmaking for which we are known, there is also less visible work many of us perform—and all of us benefit from—that makes the School of the Art Institute of Chicago run. As the spring semester ends, I am reflecting on our efforts that sought to maintain and extend our sense of wholeness, belonging, and shared responsibility this year.

For example, last October we held our first-ever contract employee appreciation week, celebrating the security, maintenance, and food service staff who are an integral part of our community. In March, we announced enhancements to paid family leave, which makes the Art Institute of Chicago a leader among colleges and museums in parental and caregiver leave benefits. Over the last several weeks, student, faculty, and staff recipients of our inaugural Compassion and Belonging grants have realized projects designed to increase well-being and inclusiveness throughout our community. And through the yearlong effort of 120 action group and steering committee members for NEXT SAIC Strategic Plan, the School is poised to finish prioritizing and begin implementing initiatives next academic year.

Projects such as these are how we sustain, preserve, and protect our School and its successes. In this environment, our faculty, students, staff, and alums have continued to excel as individuals and in small groups, and each of these achievements are moments for community celebration. Below, I have highlighted just a few of these awards and prizes. Also below, you will find additional information on some of our community-wide efforts and milestones that took place during this academic year.

As we move into summer interim courses, engage in study trips, and welcome the Low-Res MFA students and visiting faculty, I hope everyone in the SAIC community finds an opportunity for rest, recuperation, and self-care alongside their summer projects. If you will be away for the summer, travel safely. And if you have just graduated, congratulations, and remember the triumphant cry Mierle Laderman Ukeles taught us. You’re to use it when your explorations result in discoveries that transform how everyone at SAIC—and beyond—thinks about art and the world. You’re to exclaim:


Elissa Tenny