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February 7, 2013

HPAC launches new visual arts certificate program

Last Wednesday night kicked off the first writing class of the new visual arts certificate program. The class is 19 strong; Zachary Cahill teaches it at the Hyde Park Arts Center (HPAC).

I met Cahill at the new Café Logan. He wears thick glasses and a t-shirt and offers me coffee. I instantly like him. Cahill, who is over 6’2”, speaks with a quiet roughness, which was brought about, he says, by a mild cold. His words meander in an organic way that makes us both forget this is an interview.

Cahill is a lecturer in the department of visual arts. His classes last year included “Hauntology/Ghosts” and “Animality.” In addition to exhibiting his own work, which is largely political, Cahill also writes for several publications, including Artforum’s Web site, and serves on the Advisory Board for the new visual arts certificate program.

Last Wednesday’s course marked the first moments of a new partnership between the Graham School and HPAC. HPAC includes exhibition rooms and education spaces. It is located about two miles northeast of campus, in Indian Village.

Kineret Jaffe, the director of Cultural and Civic Partnerships and Affiliations, conceived of the partnership about a year and a half ago. The curriculum consists of four quarter-long classes, along with a studio exhibition project. The classes focus on writing, business, teaching, and curatorial practices and are taught by UChicago faculty. The exhibition project is run by the Center Program, which is an exhibition development program run out of HPAC.

The new certificate is mainly for artists but also caters to people interested in starting a gallery, curating, or generally working in the art world. The entire certificate costs $3,400, and classes can be taken non-consecutively. In a troubled economy, the pre-professional, skill-based certificate is perfect for artists who hold a full-time job and can only take classes at night.

“[The cost of education is] a challenge; I don’t think anybody would say otherwise. Artists, with the rare exception of the successful artists, don’t have a lot of disposable income,” Cahill says.

It’s a “nuts-and-bolts” kind of program, he adds, “practical.”

The new certificate program is just one of many serious initiatives in recent years by the University to bolster the arts around campus. New venues like the Logan Center, powerful new faculty recruits, and superstar alumni like Anthony Elms, curator of the prestigious Whitney Biennial in New York City, have put the University on the map as a rising heavyweight in the Chicago art world.

“It’s been a change,” reflects Cahill. “I can see it in the way the art students carry themselves. There’s a real sense of pride…especially in the undergraduate population…. They’re giving themselves a kind of freedom and permission…. It’s hard to quantify.”

While the focus on the arts is helping to boost applicant numbers and UChicago’s reputation, Cahill also believes the academic world and the art world are engaging in a pivotal conversation. Since the enactment of the G.I. Bill, when demand for MFAs (Masters of Fine Arts) surged, the arts and the academy have, as Cahill puts it, “bandied about” questions of “artistic research,” “aesthetics of knowledge,” and “sensorial learning.”

“The arts as a phenomenon in academia is…relative to the history, a recent phenomenon,” he says.

As I leave Café Logan, I can’t help but agree with Cahill that “there’s just a lot of heat in Hyde Park.” And the new visual arts certificate program is just one more log on the fire.

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