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University of North Carolina Art Students and Faculty Protest Artwashing

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA—Beginning in May, art students and faculty at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill have protested the campus-wide development campaign Arts Everywhere for ignoring the needs of the university’s art department. The coalition Artist Researchers Together for Higher Education Reform (ART HERE) have accused the administration of artwashing, citing inadequate facilities, staffing, and health and safety standards for students while exploiting the arts’ legacy at the university, George Scheer reports for Hyperallergic.

Now in its second year, Arts Everywhere is a $250 million portion of the Campaign for Carolina, a $4.25 billion fundraising drive that includes $1 billion for student scholarships. ART HERE claims Arts Everywhere has brought programming and public art to the campus that is entirely in service to the Ackland Art Museum and devalues the critical work and research conducted in the Department of Art and Art History, where the endowment has been mismanaged and investment in the humanities has been scarce.

In a meeting with the art department’s Faculty Executive Committee and ART HERE activists, chancellor Carol Folt defended Arts Everywhere, “You don’t raise money from artists, you raise it from business, science, and doctors. Art is a way to bring people in, and it tends to get them excited about other things. People don’t give you money to fix things like water fountains and bad air.” The university has pointed to ongoing repairs to the Sloane Art Library and more than $90 million in private donations to the Ackland Museum, the Department of Music, and the Center for Dramatic Arts as evidence of its commitment to supporting the arts.

In the last seven years, the Art Department has lost seven studio faculty members, including two African-American and one Native American instructor. Departed faculty have been tenured or tenure-tracked, and only one tenure line and two three-year fixed term positions have been extended. Two faculty of color have been hired since 2010. 

Former assistant professor Jina Valentine, who left UNC for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago told Hyperallergic, “When people leave, it creates big holes in the curriculum. At the same time, the college continues to maintain expectations of the department, despite their operating with less people. The deans of the College of Arts & Sciences recognize the department is at a tipping point, already operating with less resources (human and fiscal) that is needed. Yet they continue to allow faculty to leave and continue to provide inadequate funding.”

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June 19, 2018