Program must make changes

Recent decision to suspend admissions to Queen's Fine Arts program is result of inability to meet future staffing needs

Fine Arts students at work during the Nov. 16 open house at Ontario Hall
Fine Arts students at work during the Nov. 16 open house at Ontario Hall

When I was appointed as director of the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program in April 2011, my priorities were to develop publicity and to raise the profile of the program.

The current media coverage regarding the suspension of BFA admissions for 2012-13 is not the publicity I had in mind.

The BFA program has faced many challenges in recent years. Perhaps the pressures have been more acutely felt in such a small program. Although a continuing adjunct professor is a welcome addition this year, there are just six professors — three of which are part-time — to teach a four-year honors degree program.

It’s equivalent to just 4.3 full-time teaching positions.

Under the advisement of the administration in 2008, BFA faculty worked to develop new curriculum and a course-delivery model to reduce staffing needs The goal was to make the teaching load more equitable and to make the program more financially sustainable.

These program developments have been referred to as model examples and were implemented in the fall of 2009. However, in the same semester, an unexpected 50 per cent increase in first-year admissions created additional challenges and prohibited many of the planned changes.

BFA students are a tight-knit group who are very hard working and organized. This may be a direct result of teaching and learning in the BFA program, or it could be a side benefit from being part of a small program where needs often outweigh means.

BFA students successfully fundraise annually for the well-established North Adams Printmaking Trip. It’s a work-and-study event for senior students to print wood blocks on the largest press in North America, organized by Professor Otis Tamasauskas.

They also raise money for the fourth-year Ontario Hall show, which is accompanied by a publication produced by fourth-year students.

BFA students are also involved in running the Union Gallery in Stauffer Library (BFA students hold most of the positions on the operating board), and organizing the main fundraising event “Cezanne’s Closet.”

BFA students can best represent themselves, but my understanding is that they believe the suspension of admissions will lead to the eventual closure of the program they hold dear.

Because of their strong feelings of attachment and belonging, they’re taking the news personally and feel undervalued.

It has been my position, in my daily contact with students, to reassure them that they’ll continue to be represented on committees and be involved in new planning.

We all know that change is ongoing and not necessarily bad. Everyone agrees the Queen’s BFA program costs more to deliver than some other Arts and Science programs, and that there’s room for improvement. The economy has negatively impacted the Faculty budget.

But given that the reason provided for the admission suspension is the Faculty’s inability to meet future BFA staffing needs, and the fact that there are other Arts and Science programs that will soon be in a similar position, it seems natural for colleagues to ask the question, “What program is next?”

While the suspension of Fine Arts admissions for the 2012-13 year will not necessarily lead to the closure of the program, we must take certain steps to ensure Fine Arts emerges stronger. That means finding ways to cut costs, but it also means promoting the value of the program both within the Faculty and to the Queen’s community.

The Ontario Hall open house that ran this past Wednesday is indicative of the value students place on the work they do. It’s this student passion that will carry the program through the immense economic pressures it faces.

In my new role as Director, my priorities remain to continue working with BFA faculty and students to maintain depth of learning in art practice and facilitate programming that augments studio courses.

We’re also working to develop initiatives such as programming for the Art and Media Lab in the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. If we work together, I see a bright future for the Fine Arts program.

Thank you for the many letters of support from colleagues and alumni across Canada.

Kathleen Sellars is the BFA program director

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