UICA + KCAD: A Marriage of Love or Convenience

Wedding cake

by Tamara Fox

Have you ever attended the beautiful wedding of two individuals you feared were ill-prepared for the reality of marriage? Maybe they’re too young, or it’s a third marriage, or maybe they’ve only known each other a few months. It’s hard to ignore your misgivings, even as you wittness the ceremony.  I felt similarly conflicted at the media event announcing the merger of Kendall College of Art and Design and Ferris State University with the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art.

At the faculty and staff meeting Tuesday morning, KCAD president Dr. David Rosen, indicated that the college would be engaging in a collaborative relationship with UICA, so when the formal announcement was made on Friday morning, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. The merger of KCAD, Ferris State University and the UICA  may not be an ideal solution, but something of this nature had to occur if UICA was to continue operating.  Perhaps a shotgun wedding was in order.

Change was imminent.  Local media has provided periodic updates about UICA’s fiscal crisis and changes in administration. Over the past few months, two additional long-term members of staff have left, and those remaining on the curatorial board have finally been informed that the committee has been eliminated.  The positions of both curatorand executive director have been given to two individuals who are KCAD alumni.  I cannot attest to the abilities of either, and I hope that both excel in their new jobs, but it is remarkable that these critical positions in a floundering organization were not open to a national search. These hirings contribute to concerns that UICA will become a mere annex to KCAD, in spite of assurances to the contrary.

Almost without exception, the language in the statements issued the about the merger, and responses to questions from the media, indicate that being more accessible and family friendly, is high on the list of priorities. There is nothing wrong with increasing attendance at events, or expanding membership, but in light of these ambitions, it may be difficult for UICA to stay true to its mission. I don’t believe that contemporary art must be controversial in content, or unconventional in form to be relevant or compelling, but I think it is impossible to showcase contemporary art that will not challenge the viewing audience.

My skepticism about this marriage of convenience is tempered by two realizations. First of all UICA board president, Kathryn Chaplow’s statement regarding the merger specifically addresses the need to balance marketing and visibility, with the organization’s role as forum for contemporary art. Secondly, having worked at KCAD during, and after its merger with Ferris State University, my experience was that while it was not a totally seamless transition, Ferris has indeed allowed KCAD to grow and evolve as a semi-autonomous institution.

I like this couple, and wish them the best of luck.

[Originally Published at Art-Hack.org]