The University of Louisville board of trustees voted last week to approve a new graduate degree in visual art with the goal of matriculating its first class next fall. The Master of Fine Arts in studio art and design is a 60-credit hour terminal degree.
The University of Kentucky also offers an MFA in studio art, but U of L’s hot glass and graphic design studies will distinguish the program from the competition — a not-insignificant consideration for the art department, which has been working on refining their proposed degree program for more than a decade.
“We’re actually understanding now, in terms of what we’re trying to do producing an MFA in an urban environment in the largest city of the state,” says acting fine art department chair Scott Massey. “We do want to serve the local community, but we’re looking to produce a world-class program.”
The program had been tied to the Museum Plaza development and stalled when the museum project was canceled due to funding issues in 2011. U of L’s proposed space in Museum Plaza would have cost about $10 million. Massey says the cancelation of the development was a disappointment, but the program built strong relationships with cultural partners as a result.
“As a faculty, we really want to see that international level of exhibition space in contemporary art and theory occurring within the state boundaries,” he says. “It’s really important to us. We don’t want to be isolated.”
And with small incoming classes of three to four graduate students per year, the approved plan allows for locating the program within current university fine art studio and classroom space and staffing with current faculty for the immediate future.
Beyond the university walls, Massey hopes the program will be transformative for the community at large.
“It’ll change the perspective of people outside of our area of what we do here. I think it’ll become an engine for creativity and an engine for innovation,” says Massey. “We’ve looked at a lot of the people who are writing about what happens when you change the nature of an area’s culture in terms of education, critical thinking, contemporary practices, professional practices. You really can’t estimate at a very low level, you have to think the boundaries are wide open.”
To that end, Massey says faculty members have been working toward building partnerships, such as sharing visiting artists with the University of Kentucky and setting up artist exchange programs with institutions in China.
“We’re wanting to bring people in to enrich the experience in our community, and also to send our students out, to enrich those students, so we have an exchange that goes well beyond the borders of the state and moves throughout the world,” says Massey.
Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education approval for the program is pending.