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September 3, 2020

California Art Schools Receive Millions to Support Black Academics

Charles Gaines, Numbers and Trees: Central Park Series II: Tree #4 Steve, 2016.

LOS ANGELES AND VALENCIA, CALIFORNIA—Two philanthropists in recent weeks announced separate donations totaling $6 million to the California School of the Arts in Valencia and Otis College in Los Angeles, respectively.

Late last week, it was announced that Eileen Harris, a cofounder of L.A.-based nonprofit Art + Practice, has awarded CalArts $5 million; the money is earmarked for research, creative initiatives, curriculum changes, and the Charles Gaines Faculty Chair. This new faculty position is named for Black conceptual artist Charles Gaines, who is on staff at CalArts and will hold the initial chair. According to a press release from the institution, future chair holders will be “from underrepresented groups, including those who self-identity as Black.”

“Representationally, it’s important that people see Black artists on faculty,” said CalArts president Ravi Rajan, speaking to Hyperallergic. Rajan cited Black and Native populations as most underrepresented at the school, which last year had a matriculating student body that was just 4 percent Black.

In mid-August, Otis College announced that Mei-Lee Ney, who chairs the school’s board of trustees, had donated $1 million to the college. “Systemic racism within our educational, financial, and societal institutions disproportionately affects Black communities and can create additional obstacles for students, faculty, and staff,” Ney noted in a statement.

Ney specified that the money be used to fund the Black student–focused initiatives announced by the college in June. The initiatives accompanied the surge in the Black Lives Matter movement. The week prior to Ney’s gift, the school launched its Black Creatives Institute (BCI), an online program aimed at retaining first- and second-year Black-identifying students.

According to dean of student affairs Nicholas Negrete, who is on BCI’s organizing committee, Black students, who comprised just 5 percent of the overall student body last year, make up 9.5 percent of the college’s incoming class this fall. “With all that has happened around racial justice, that propelled us to speed up our timeline, to launch now, not next year,” he said of BCI.

Also planned at Otis is a new executive role focused on diversity, equality, and inclusion.

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