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July 12, 2022

SAIC leaders discuss future of art world

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

From left: Denise Gardner, Anita Sinha, Elissa Tenny, and Michelle T. Boone.

The world has significantly changed over the past two years, and art and design institutions across the country have had to intently listen, learn, and evolve to meet the needs of their communities. To get more insight into what art leaders need to be thinking about today, School of the Art Institute of Chicago magazine gathered Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago Denise Gardner, Chair of the Board of Governors of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) Anita Sinha, and SAIC President Elissa Tenny for a conversation with member of the Board of Governors Michelle T. Boone—who was appointed president of the Poetry Foundation in 2021—moderating. The full story can be read here.

Michelle: While many art school graduates go on to work in museums, galleries, and studio-based production, many will also go on to find success in other fields and industries. What qualities do art school students possess that help them throughout their careers?

Elissa: A few years ago, we received a grant from the Spencer Foundation to bring together six of the independent art and design colleges, including SAIC, to look at exactly this question about dispositions. It was pretty fascinating that part of what we found that was distinctive about artists, in particular, was the creativity—of course, that’s a natural—but also the resilience. One finding that was most intriguing to me was a tolerance for ambiguity. But the main finding was that artists and designers have a very strong disposition for metacognition, or more simply: thinking about thinking. It means that artists and designers have an ability to reflect and iterate, which leads them to problem solve.

Anita: [SAIC often focuses on the idea of the] “citizen artist,” a way of being an artist connected to—and not apart from—the society they live in and contribute to. You feel and see this in our students’ work, in the ways they think and live. It’s wonderful.

Michelle: I’m reflecting on how artists are responding to—and incorporating—the social conditions of the city in which they live into their work more and more. I think that will be interesting to watch: how artists will continue to be inspired by social issues and use art as a tool for social justice.

Denise: I do think that artists respond to issues of social justice and other issues through their art. It’s a trend of not just the artists themselves but of the audiences who respond to the art, museum visitors. From what I understand about students visiting the museum, the questions and conversations are changing. Our young people are changing, leading that path and leading that way. It’s important because it shows that in the world of the arts, it’s important to reflect what people are experiencing, what people are thinking about, and what people are caring about.

About the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
For more than 155 years, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has been a leader in educating the world’s most influential artists, designers, and scholars. Located in downtown Chicago with a fine arts graduate program ranked number two in the nation by US News and World Report, SAIC provides an interdisciplinary approach to art and design as well as world-class resources, including the Art Institute of Chicago museum, on-campus galleries, and state-of-the-art facilities. SAIC’s undergraduate, graduate, and post-baccalaureate students have the freedom to take risks and create the bold ideas that transform Chicago and the world, and adults, teens, and kids in our Continuing Studies classes have the opportunity to explore their creative sides, build portfolios, and advance their skills. Notable alumni and faculty include Georgia O’Keeffe, Nick Cave, David Sedaris, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Cynthia Rowley, Michelle Grabner, Richard Hunt, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Jeff Koons. Learn more at saic.edu.

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