A person performing while draped in sheets

“Unravel” Madison Mae Parker (photo courtesy of the artist)


Performance Department

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago's (SAIC) Department of Performance was founded in an experimental spirit and is unique in the United States as one of the only contemporary live-performance art departments in an art school at the undergraduate and graduate level focused on performance practice and performance studies. 

The department continues to evolve in relation to new developments inside and outside the field and aims to be responsive to new ways of seeing and understanding the world in the 21st century, from both student and faculty perspectives.

Our performance art curriculum combines intensive studio practice with rigorous critical, theoretical, and historical study to inform your aesthetic choices and expression, while our interdisciplinary approach builds on a broad range of performative modes, including live action, performance installation, movement research, tactical and site performance, interactive digital technologies, and performative writing. 

Students are encouraged to consider their art-making process as an interdisciplinary practice that can range across various departments including, but not limited to, Fiber and Material Studies; Sculpture; Fashion Design; Art & Technology / Sound Practices; Film, Video, New Media, and Animation; and Ceramics.

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Undergraduate Studies in Performance Art

The Bachelor of Fine Arts undergraduate program allows you to explore performance through a wide array of beginning, intermediate, and advanced courses, while investigating the intersection of artist and audience, performance art theory, and the history of performance art. The performance program's size allows you ample one-on-one contact with faculty, time for in-depth critiques, and many opportunities to share work with your peers.

MFA in Studio: Performance

One of the country's only performance studies graduate programs, our MFA in Performance Master’s program educates artists who produce groundbreaking, meaningful work that impacts the very paradigm of performance. The core of the graduate program is a series of interdisciplinary theory/practice lab courses that explore the use of the body as an expressive medium and critical site of research and action.

Master of Fine Arts in Performance students present a 30-minute lecture on their work during the last semester of study and participate in a full-day symposium/critique of their culminating thesis show and their exit strategies post-graduate school. The department offers six teaching assistant positions and one graduate assistant position each semester.

Intensive Performance Experience

The department offers students intensive performance art experiences through summer and winter institutes, including Abandoned Practices in the summer, led by Matthew Goulish, Lin Hixson (of Every House Has a Door), and Mark Jeffery; and Frozen Intensives in the winter led by department faculty and visiting performance artists. By arrangement, advanced and graduate students may also apprentice with performance artists and groups locally and nationally.

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Series, Symposia, and Exhibitions

Each fall the department hosts the biweekly Propositions series with presentations by cutting-edge visiting performance artists, curators, writers, alumni of the department, and faculty practitioners. A Performance Symposium that considers currents in contemporary performance art, practice and theory with invited performance artists and scholars is held in the spring, including presentations by current students. Recent symposia have included "Spouting Off: The Performance Lecture," "Mixed Reality Performance" as part of The Simulationist exhibition, and "Performing Futures: Sustaining and Continuing a Live Art Practice."

Our students also exhibit their work in the SITE Galleries on campus and present their work in the LeRoy Neiman Center.

A group of students performing on the steps of the SAIC galleries as a crowd observes
"Still, Move, Walk with me", by Mallory Qui (BFA 23) Photo: Ruby Que

The History of the Department of Performance

The Department of Performance at SAIC evolved from the Department of Environmental Design in the late 1960s. Environmental Design offered courses in cross-disciplinary practices including architecture, visual design, and new genres that included events, happenings, and fusions of film, dance, and theater.

Faculty member John Kurtich invited Tom Jaremba, a choreographer and teacher at the Goodman Theater to join the faculty to co-teach classes based in presence, performance, and presentation of self in everyday life. Jaremba was eventually hired as full-time faculty and subsequently became the founder of the Department of Performance, the first such performance-focused program in the United States.

The performance program has engaged notable names from the art world such as Jack Smith, Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Alan Kaprow, Eleanor Antin, Rachel Rosenthal, Karen Finlay, and Martha Wilson, among others, to perform, teach, and lecture in the department over the years. The department continues to present SAIC students with a broad spectrum of course offerings and activities through which to examine and experience evolving contemporary performance art and practice. 

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Contact Us

Performance Department Office

280 Building
280 S. Columbus Dr., suite 115

Phone: 312.857.7660

Department Chair

Mark Jeffery mjeffery@saic.edu

Graduate Coordinator

Roberto Sifuentes rsifuentes@saic.edu

Senior Administrative Director

Katie Short

Administrative Director

Jessica DuPreez

Administrative Assistant

Maria Dunaevsky

Technology Manager

Joshua Hoglund