Credit...Susan M B Chen and Steve Turner
How do you get discovered in a teetering art world? Graduating students organize shows with peers, team up with dealers — and lobby for relief funds. Will they bring change?
By Hilarie M. Sheets
Published May 19, 2020Updated May 22, 2020
For art students finishing B.F.A. and M.F.A. programs this spring, the big debut was supposed to have been the thesis exhibition. The culmination of years of work, these shows represent a shot at getting discovered by curators, dealers, collectors, and critics who make the rounds at top schools.
Then the pandemic forced schools to close and truncate programs.
“Having the thesis show canceled is like having the rug pulled out from under you,” said Ben Werther, a 22-year-old senior at Cooper Union in New York who, like his peers across the world, felt the added loss of this important first exposure amid the growing health anxiety.
The COVID era is a precarious time for students joining the art world, itself reckoning with the economic sustainability of museums, galleries, and global art fairs. For those who have also taken out student loans for expensive programs and received no tuition reimbursement, the disappointment has been especially stark. Since being shut out of his painting studio at Yale and missing hands-on instruction, James Bartolacci, 31, is one of many wondering what exactly he’s paying for.
He chose Yale, despite the $80,000 tuition for the two-year master’s program (not including living expenses), because of the school’s rigor and reputation for helping kick-start its graduates’ careers through its well-connected faculty and visiting artists. (Students hold up the example of Jordan Casteel, who showed her paintings at a New York gallery just months after graduating from Yale in 2014 and now has her first solo museum exhibition in New York hanging — behind closed doors — at the New Museum.)
But Mr. Bartolacci said he’s feeling a little skeptical about the whole M.F.A., “when you’re burdened by student debt and you’re in this reality of increasing financial uncertainty in the art world and not necessarily able to make that money back.”
Now Mr. Bartolacci and his peers have been driven to collective action — demanding relief funds and leading the charge on a number of online alternatives to thesis shows, with the help of veteran gallerists and established artists.
On March 21, 128 master's students at the Yale School of Art sent a letter to the president of the university and their dean requesting partial tuition reimbursement. “We were told that Yale is not offering tuition refunds of any kind,” said Cindy Hwang, a 27-year-old graphic design student. She and other Yale students reached out to peers at seven art schools across the country and created a communal spreadsheet comparing how each program had responded to the students’ relief efforts.
More found at New York Times