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Visual studies could have larger role in curriculum

Update 5/8 8:45 PM

According to Associate Provost Maris Gillette, “John Muse and Vicky Funari have accepted a two-year contract from Haverford, to teach courses in support of the Visual Studies Initiative,” a hire partially funded by the John B. Hurford ’80 Center for the Arts and Humanities. “Vicky will teach a set of documentary filmmaking courses at beginner and advanced levels, and John will offer his Introduction to Visual Studies, some new courses on exhibitions and display, digital media praxis, and advanced interdisciplinary visual studies, plus his conceptual art course and a freshman writing course.”

In addition to these courses, Jesse Shipley will teach Visual Anthropology and Erin Kelley will offer an East Asian visual culture class, Gillette said.

Original text 5/3/13

Throughout this past year, a number of students and faculty have been actively brainstorming ways to better incorporate visual studies into Haverford’s academic and extracurricular culture.

Broadly defined, visual studies utilize video, photography, computer animation, painting and other mediums in order to create dynamic expressions of academic work.

An ad-hoc visual arts program has been developing in the curriculum for the last few years, the result of more open-ended final project assignments and courses by faculty, visiting professors and fellows. Still, visual studies is not considered an integral aspect of the curriculum.

But after extensive forum-style meetings this semester, an effort spearheaded by Associate Provost and Professor of Anthropology Maris Gillette, Visiting Instructor and Artist-in-Residence Vicky Funari and John Muse, Post-doctoral Fellow in Visual Studies, the visual studies could have a more permanent place within the curriculum.

At these meetings, student, faculty, and staff articulated an interest in integrating visual arts into the current Haverford curriculum, expanding film course offerings, and promoting collaborative and individual extracurricular projects. Current drafts of the strategic plan place visual studies as one of three “core competencies.”

Early discussions consisted of scattered conversations between students, faulty and staff. But while working with these different groups Funari says she noticed “so much synchronicity” between their thoughts and concerns about existing visual studies offerings at the College.

There was a sense of division among the academic disciplines and a lack of direction in “the state of the arts at Haverford,” according to a letter from a group of students sent to the administration last December.

The letter addressed the uncertain employment status of Funari and Muse, who do not have long-term contracts with the College, emphasizing the impact they have made “ on student production and collaboration.” For the past 5 years at Haverford, Funari has been the only professor of Documentary Video Production and Muse has taught the only Introduction to Visual Studies course.

Their status at this point remains unclear, making the availability of relevant course offerings also unknown. For the time being, Funari and Muse have focused their efforts on spearheading the movement to incorporate visual arts into the overlapping academic and extracurricular spheres at Haverford.

“The purpose here is discovery. From fine arts, special collections, digital media [and] visualizing molecules, to charts and space, we would like to begin a conversation,” said Gillette at the first official conversation on October 4. Follow-up conversations in December and February gathered faculty and student input.

These conversation focused on themes like Social Documentation, Text & Image, Data Visualization, Arts & Media, and Display & Exhibition and students had a chance to give their opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of current course offerings.

At the most recent and final planning meeting April 3, nearly 50 students, staff and faculty members met to discuss where these ideas might fit into the strategic plan.

The Academic Space Planning Committee (ASPC) raised the possibility of supporting a new visual studies-influenced curriculum with the addition of new faculty, staff, equipment and space. In addition to improvements to the academic curriculum, renovated buildings could serve to support the incorporation of visual studies.

For example, a digital commons in Magill was suggested in order to “foster digital scholarship,” while there are plans to turn Ryan Gym into an interdisciplinary social space.

Social spaces dedicated to visual and audio arts, such as “artistic experimentation” and “sound production projects” were topics of conversation at the forum. Natasha Cohen-Carroll ’13 emphasized the “urgency to create space first” as an essential element to promoting visual arts at Haverford. Junior Gebby Keny and Professor of Chemistry Casey Londergan added that the renovation of Ryan Gym should be “a community effort” that is flexible and accessible for students and faculty of all disciplines.

Going forward, administrators hope to follow up on the forums’ suggestions of offering interdisciplinary, visual studies-centered, social spaces.

Robert Fairman, Professor of Biology and Associate Provost for Faculty Development and Support, showed his support of the visual studies movement in his attendance at the forums. He is hopeful that, if fundraising and alumni support come through, the ASPC’s vision for Ryan Gym renovations can materialize soon.

One Comment

  1. disqus_lMX4nxgo7c May 10, 2013

    Who wrote the letter in December? Props.

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