Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lets make this happen!

I've felt for many years now that what was holding back the Jacksonville visual arts growth and progress was that the universities here did not offer an MFA program. If JU or UNF had an MFA program there would be a tremendous boost in the visual arts. I grew up in Dallas, Texas where a wealthy family loved sculpture and funded the MFA program at SMU. Each year, the hand full of graduating MFA students would be featured in the newspaper with bios and samples of their work. These people seemed like superstars to the public. There was such an excitement generated by this program and their works. There was so much public sculpture around Dallas, on the streets, in the malls seemed that every available space yielded something wonderful and creative. So, can we do something about this? I've spoken to JU admin/staff and they say that funding is needed. What if we created awareness, wrote letters, got endorsement by the museum curators and others?... then approached the Davis family and anyone else to raise funds... Anyone interested in helping me take this on?


Byron said...

Sharla this is a good point. To tell you the truth I think we are losing a lot of our best creatives to this very problem. I myself am looking at MFA programs around the country as we speak as I've always wanted to teach at the college level.

I'm not saying I'm one of our best but how many others have left to go to school not to return? I know that one of Mark Creegan's buddies just moved up to UNC to go to school. How many others are leaving and not returning? Will he return with the knowledge he gains to improve Jax? I doubt it. Mark is probably a minority in that he returned back to Jax?

I know UNF has talked about this for decades now, and it seems a little ridiculous to say it's a funding issue. If the program was five students it would be a program. How many more professors need to be hired for a small MFA class? I don't think any myself. Other schools teach dual BFA, MFA courses.

Why does USF,and UCF have programs but UNF doesn't? What gives?

I really think I need to hear a better excuse than funding. Where there's a will there's a way. Isn't that what people say?

Is there a will? Is there a way?

SharlaTV said...

I understood JU's predicament. MFA students need studio space and since I went to JU I knew how crowded that situation was for the BFA students. I tried to convince JU to have an MFA in glass/sculpture...anyway, I'm open to meeting with UNF (let's do it!) and see what their excuse is.

Jaime Verde said...

Sharla, you have hit the nail on the head as to why a more serious scene has yet to happen here in JAX.

As an MFA graduate myself, I find I'm constantly comparing the environment here to that of the college towns where I used to live.

A major problem in addition to the swell points both you and Byron have produced is the far more systemic and embedded cultural one: Jacksonville isn't really that accommodating to education, or really to the idea of a common good at all, for that matter. To find examples, one needs only look at our lack of community, our compulsive war on taxes, (forcing on schools and other public institutions a dependence on a dwindling number of wealthy philanthropists- a form of privatization), and the rampant privatization of both the physical landscape and whatever sense of public democracy may have once existed here. (i.e. our City Council holding secret meetings away from that pesky and troublesome public)

Your point is right on: that in order for a serious MFA program (one that would draw artists here) to take root, there needs to be an elite response, a push from a major stakeholder in the arts. But I don't see a Preston Haskell queuing up to do it. Folks of his ilk who could actually git r done more likely feel that too much education (the enrichment of others, in other words) is nothing more that a liability- something that would threaten their hegemony as this city's cultural mandarins.

A new culture of public intellectual artists (MFAs) who wish to push form and challenge the existing deathgrip that Modern painting (Abstract Expressionism) has over the collective desire of Jacksonville's art collecting class would not serve people like Haskell well in the slightest.

So yes, this hurdle is high. It may only be a matter of time before things change because the old guard that came to roost and rule here in JAX will someday soon be remembered by public memorials and charitable foundations (meaning they've got to die sometime). The big question is- will their kids have the will to give support to such an initiative? That we must put pressure on them now in order to see this type of development in the future is key. Thank you for bringing it up.

In another note (please pardon the longwinded response), despite bearing the name The UNIVERSITY of North Florida, that school is not yet an accredited research institution like FSU, UF, USF or UCF. While it's name implies that it is totally in league with these other institutions, it is not. While it is growing into a force to be reckoned with (the art department is experiencing a rise in enrollment it cannot physically keep up with) it is still not nearly as endowed as these other state schools. That's not to say that someday it won't rise to prominence in the arts among the other colleges in town, but as of now, it has far less adequate physical facilities that does JU or FCCJ's south campus even. They did just complete a 2 million dollar photo lab, but that does not contain studios for indiviual students, just a big gang lab, computer lab, a big classroom, and offices for faculty.

It may actually be a funding problem, if not simply a space problem. Think about it this way- JU has its own art building. UNF's Art and Design Department shares six (6) rooms shoehorned into the rear of the new(!) performing arts building plus the annexed ceramics and photo lab.

Another factor hindering UNF's art department growth besides money is the limitations put upon the institution because of its location inside a protected nature reserve. The entire school is limited in how much and how big it can build. That's why even with some brand new facilities, the art school cannot keep up with the sheer volume of students. That's one reason student artists leave Jacksonville to greener educational pastures.

Where else can UNF's art department expand to (in order to accommodate an MFA program), if not off-campus? And that brings me to my final point (again, sorry). I think they ought to do as FSU has done and rent some large spaces off campus to house student studios.

Of course, with an MFA program (read: supply of cheap teaching labor), UNF would be able to offer more classes, but probably not so many more that it wouldn't put the hurt on the already huge number of people who rely on UNF for part-time teaching jobs- people like me.

And given UNF's penchant for hiring their own graduates, (not a common practice at larger state schools) then an MFA program would mean more sharks in the tank for the existing faculty. In order for an MFA program to bloom at UNF, it needs to become the more mature and robust institution that I'm hopeful it will become in the future.

But yes, we must get the ball rolling now if that future is ever to come to fruition.

SharlaTV said...

I never attended UNF so its great to have this information. And I agree about haskell. I wrote him years ago when JMoCA was thinking of a name change explaining the difference between modern and contemporary. I got no response and they changed the name to JMoMA only to recently change it AGAIN recently to MoCA Jacksonville. It was so frustrating to see George Kinghorns letter 2007 outlining the same points I had written in my letter 7 years ago. But, at least, I believe George will back us on this. I'll put in a call.

Byron said...

that is some really great input James. being an alumni of FSU I can attest to the benefit of having studio space. I couldn't believe that UNF BFAers don't have studios? but the raw, hot, almost unbareable space that is the FSU BFA warehouse would seem to be easily duplicated with all the space that Jax has at it's disposal. It would be interesting if the art department moved off campus and into the urban core. that would definitely be a positive for downtown and the arts in general if there were MFA, and BFA warehouse studio spaces in the mix.

I believe if someone was to donate a building for this very cause it could be a major catalyst for Jax culture in general.

We can come up with ideas to we are blue in the face about how to improve Jax Arts but unless there is someone who can help us write grants, talk to the ones with money, talk to the ones who can make the change then we are really just sort of having fun aren't we?

Can we expect to put ideas out into cyperspace and have those ideas really affect physical change? Sorry. I definitely would love there to be an MFA program here. A great one. I really have no idea how or where to start?

Does anyone know where to begin?

SharlaTV said...

Byron, great news. I just got off the phone with Bob White who is ready to endorse our idea(s) with a letter. I am ready to pick his brain in a face to face meeting at starbucks on the 8th and he's asked me to send him "points" for his letter/endorsement. I was going to send a few of the points outlined in this blog and any others you guys can come up with. The power of the pen is our key. Now, who's interested in doing a non-whiney letter for the back page of folio weekly?

Byron said...

Great news Sharla. That's definitely a place to start.

To tell you the truth the best way to do this would probably be for you to draught it since you've already started it seems and have James Green and Mark Creegan wordsmith it as they are both amazing writers.

My take on it.

James and Mark are you down for donating your skills for the cause?


Sticks and Stones can break my bones, but Words can change the world.


SharlaTV said...

This is really exciting. Should we have a face to face? I've only met Mark C. and haven't met the others.

Jaime Verde said...


This conversation has lit a fire in me, too. I just sent an email to Debra Murphy, chair of UNF's art department. I told her I have a prospectus for a way to enhance the BFA program at UNF by making off-campus warehouse studio spaces a reality. I think its a more doable goal at the moment than making a whole new graduate program, but hey, anything could happen.

Even a rock-solid BFA program where students have their own studios could shake this town's art scene. And I think I figured out a way to do it that would be relatively painless. It could include BFA students being leveraged a small fee upon being accepted into the BFA program AND donations from local philanthropists. There are more than enough students and teachers who would get behind it.

Now for the tough part-crunching the numbers. I have a rough idea of how I'll compose the prospectus and outline the costs, but I'm waiting to hear back from Dr. Murphy to see if she wants to meet to discuss it.

The ball is in her court.

I figure its a good way to start.

I'll totally help write a folio backpage. But I would like it to be a group effort, since this is concerns a large group and the fate of the arts in Jacksonville.

What do we have to lose?

Byron said...

I'll put my two cents in. I always do.

Securing BFA studio space seems like a good place to start.

Mark Creegan said...

I will add my words,sweat and (oh yes) blood to this cause. I cant tell you how happy I am that Sharla brought this topic up because whenever I think of the one thing that hinders the local art community is lack of EDUCATION.

We need to educate GREAT artists, GREAT collectors, GREAT curators, GREAT critics, GREAT gallery owners. ALL of that starts with something like this.
I think I had (along with Sharla) a very good experience at JU. We were given ample space to work in AND encouragement to explore materials and ideas. Youve got to be able to make messes and leave it there for a semester or two as you work out ideas. This carried on into my days as a tenant at the old Brooklyn Arts Center.

I know first hand the best and brightest art students go away to school. I have the luxury of helping students in my FCCJ classes struggling with where to go after they graduate. Two recent students are starting at FSU and at USF this fall. Another is doing research on schools outside of Florida. I cant tell you how i long for the day when I can encourage similar students to apply to UNF.

Like many who teach at UNF, I want the program to improve and see a lot of potential. I have a selfish reason as well because I would like my wife and I to be able to stay in Jacksonville. A great art program, BFA and/or MFA, is a great incentive to stay.

Mark Creegan said...

Just to add --not ALL the best and brightest leave. Right Brittni?

SharlaTV said...

I'll work on getting a letter of endorsement from george kinghorn and the new director of the pv cultural center. Does anyone know anyone at the cummer for a letter?
Here's some points to support our endeavor...feel free to tweak the wording on these!

Why we need an MFA Program is Jacksonville:

- Artist have to go elsewhere for their MFA's and rarely return.We are losing a lot of our best creatives to this very problem.

- An MFA program would not only keep artists here but would bring new artists to our coast. MFA programs have become very competitive. An MFA program would attract students from leading colleges and art schools throughout the US and overseas.

- An MFA program would create a new standard. Artistic endeavors in Jacksonville would become more plentiful and of higher quality thus creating a healthy competition amongst the local artists.

- An MFA program would create more awareness for the arts. The celebrated graduates with their projects would generate PR, something needed to keep our arts community flourishing.

- The MFA is the new MBA. Creativity is the commodity that is in high demand. As our industrial economy shifts to a creative economy business schools across America are rethinking their curricula. The Master of Fine Arts is as valued to business as the revered M.B.A. In 2004, the Harvard Business Review listed the M.F.A. as one of the top 10 hot new ideas of the year.

- An MFA program would have an economic impact. [not sure how, will have to research this...

CREATEjacksonville said...

Damn. I don't check the blog for a day and I miss out on the most interesting conversation to date!

I would love to be included in helping move this along. I am no Creegan or Greene as far as vocabulary is concerned BUT I do have some thoughts on the subject. AND since UNF is where I got my BFA, I am VERY interested in making this a reality.

This is great!

CREATEjacksonville said...

Unfortunately, most of my students treat UNF and/or JU as if it were a community college...keeping it as more of a back-up plan, than a bonafide choice. It would be great if that could change.

Mark Creegan said...

Very important to get input from UNF grads and HS art teachers like you Brittni. I would also be interested in hearing what DA grads and teachers have to say.

Mark Creegan said...

Sharla, all your points above are solidly right on by the way.

Byron said...

oh. Roger Mark. Sharla's points are right on.

I'm a bit weary how a letter from a group of folks will be perceived without the proper research on the issue and a large body of people behind us.

What type of research do we need to do in order to validate all of her points? I mean her points are valid but from a research and analysis standpoint what is needed to take it to the next level?

CREATEjacksonville said...

i went to a workshop for an AP studio class I am teaching, and I met about 20 other high school art teachers from Jacksonville and other parts of Florida while I was there.

We all talked about our students and what schools they were headed off to, what schools they recommend to their students, etc. It seemed that almost every teacher that was local stressed SCAD and Ringling as the two options for college to their students.

SharlaTV said...

I response to Byrons question about the points... if we were applying for a grant then yes...research would have to be done on these points but if we are going to approach the universities and appeal to individuals for funding then research would not be needed. Instead, we would get endorsement letters from key people. btw...I don't think we could apply for grants to raise funds for another institution. But, we could make JaxCAL a not-for-profit org and begin applying for grants for it.

Here's a to-do list I've put together from this blog... let me know if I've left anything out or somethings seems off:
1. collect letters of endorsements from key people
2. create awareness ie backpage letter in folio weekly and contact TU and others publications. Have an exhibition/group show that ties into our endeavor
3. research study determining the need (testimonials from teachers, students..)
4. meet with universities and discover what it will takes to put this program into place and universities willingness to make this happen
5. create a prospectus and outline of costs
6. create a large volume of people behind us (a petition perhaps?)
7. approach potential donors

Byron said...

sharla this is great input. I think I need some time to think about it now.

I hear you about not having to have the research in order to go forward with anything. A great letter stating our mission could get the ball rolling.

CREATEjacksonville said...

great job with everything. those points are a strong start.

Pedestrian Projects said...

I, Brittini am also a UNF grad. Always wanted an MFA program here!

I just caught up on all the chatter and mad planning and I also am PUMPED UP !!!! What can i do to help??

Can we get together and talk it out? This is amazing.

Thanks Sharla for starting this confabulation!

SharlaTV said...

Brittini, YES! I'd love to get together and make this happen! After this week my schedule opens up. Feel free to email me at and thank you!

Pedestrian Projects said...

OOPS, Brittini, it sounds like i was saying i was you.................sorry, sharla that was actually me.
i was actually just trying to address Brittini.............and am i even spelling your name correctly?

CREATEjacksonville said...

haha...well, i am up for meeting up too.

steve- i didn't know you were a unf grad.

Neonalune said...

I was going to mention maybe hitting Haskell up for this idea...but since I used to work for him I can assure you that the only way he would do something like this is if it gave him continuous publicity. He has been quoted before as saying he doesn't support local artist. I find that completely bizarre. You'd think if he could build the Haskell Art Building on the UNF or JU campus...hey and build it himself! that he'd go for it. In fact he has many artist working for him to this day, doubling as architects, and has commissioned pieces from one of them. You'd think a little light bulb would go off in his head that if he supported art education more there would be so much more art to Jacksonville.

Mark Creegan said...

Well, hey whatever it takes. I am all for trying to approach Haskell or someone like him with these ideas with the carrot like that. What a wonderful legacy to leave.

Pedestrian Projects said...

i would stick to others. haskell has a specific thing he does with his collection and he supports the museum and runs his business. he does alot by collecting. one of the top collectors in the country. he has a specific thing he collects and sticks to it. you have to admire that!
as far as builing an MFA program...........maybe grabbing the more lower pieces of fruit to start would be a good idea. But i commend you all, the only way to do it is demand it. I would love to get my MFA and cannot really leave jacksonville because of my family and responsibilities. So i would love to help!!