What Is Behind Philly’s University of the Arts Abrupt Closure?

You may have heard the disconcerting news that the 150 year old University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia abruptly announced their closure last week, less than a year after Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts announced they were discontinuing their bachelor and master of fine arts degrees.  What is particularly galling about the closure is that faculty and students weren’t informed that the school would be closing a few days later and heard about it via media sources.

In addition, the manner in which they made the announcement resulted in the school immediately losing its accreditation.  Apparently, the accrediting agency told them on May 28 that their accreditation was renewed for another few years. The next day UArts told the agency they were going to close in a few days and the agency pulled accreditation pretty much immediately in response to the fact the school was giving such short notice and had not arranged for teach out agreements to help students transfer to other schools.

This reminded me of the closure of Sweet Briar College that I wrote about in 2015.  There were all sorts of questions about how that decision came about, especially since the school had accepted a million dollar gift two weeks before the board decided to close the school. In that case, the alumnae rallied to call for the resignation of the president and board for not properly exploring options to keep the school open.  The school continues to operate today.

I am not suggesting UArts is in a position to be saved. A number of universities have been closing in recent years. Last week Marymount Manhattan merged with Northeastern University due to declining enrollments.  The merger was a result of discussions over the course of a number of years.

Clearly the difficulties UArts faced didn’t just emerge over the course of a week. The faculty just ratified its first contract in February after three years of negotiation, but according to a recent article on the closure, there was no indication of financial problems at that time.

“Part of what makes this so shocking and outrageous is that at no point was there any indication from the senior leaders at the university … that the university’s finances were this precarious,” faculty member and union representative Bradley Philbert told Hyperallergic, adding that within the last three months, the university has hired between four and six staffers.

“This is not just something that happened overnight,” Philbert said.

Others have mentioned the abrupt closure is likely a violation of the WARN Act which requires large employers to provide 60 days notice of layoffs and closures.

Instances like these make me wonder what sort of legal advice and guidance these boards have been receiving. Likewise, who was making decisions about internal and external communications that none of this information was shared with any of the school’s constituencies.  In the end, I wonder if there are parallels with Sweet Briar in that the UArts board may have decided to shut everything down without due consideration about the process.

Creativity Isn’t Locked Away In This Shed

Rochester Institute of Technology (RTI) has a new building that puts creative spaces right next to each other. The Student Hall for Exploration and Development (SHED) has acting and and dance studios with transparent walls as featured spaces in the building next to maker spaces with equally transparent walls and garage style doors which open to a common space embracing the philosophy that arts and STEM practices can inform each other.

“Placing performing arts facilities so close to tech-project spaces encourages a unique kind of cross-fertilization. For a play presented in the Glass Box Theater called Ada and the Engine, fourth-year mechanical engineering major Catherine Hampp used the SHED’s 3D printing technology to build a stage version of Charles Babbage’s 1832 calculating device, a precursor of today’s computers. The textile lab can aid costumers of theatrical productions, then turn to the task of crafting headgear that can comfortably support devices that allow facial and eye movements to control a wheelchair. These are refined by student researchers in the co-located electronics lab.”

These spaces open on to an atrium with tables and chairs where students can socialize. The building connects the library and student union which results in about 15,000 students passing by all this creative activity and displays on a daily basis.

Right from the start of the article, I immediately thought of the way Steve Jobs designed Pixar Studios building with the restroom and mail room at a central hub so that people from different parts of the company would bump into each other and talk about what they are working on. His goal was to spur innovation with cross-pollination of ideas. The story I linked to in my 2014 post on the topic isn’t available any longer, but my recollection was that employees at the outskirts rebelled at having to walk so far to use the restroom and Jobs eventually relented and installed some in other parts of the complex.

Interestingly in that same 2014 post, I wrote about the segregation of the creative class from the rest of the community in many cities, especially in college towns. This sort of dynamic manifests in a cultural divide because there isn’t intermixing between the general community and the creatives who gather near the campuses. One of the places where the divide is least present are places in the Midwest and Sunbelt. In 2014, Rochester, NY was the second least segregated community behind Minneapolis-St. Paul.  RTI’s approach with the SHED isn’t new to the institution so I wouldn’t be surprised if they contributed to the overall culture of of the city in this respect.



Choose Yourself Over The Long Haul

Seth Godin had posted on the 150th anniversary of Impressionism which is benchmarked from the April 15, 1874 art exhibition organized by a number of artists whose work had been refused by the prestigious Salon de Paris.  The original show by the “Refused,” as Godin terms them, included 31 artists, among them were Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Berthe Morisot and Paul Cézanne.

Godin notes that first exhibition was a failure, not even attracting 1% of the Salon show and garnering largely negative reviews.

One of the most positive things to come from the exhibit was a scathing satirical piece, the one that gave the impressionists their name. The insecure critics came to regret their inability to see what was possible.

And yet, the artists persisted. Year after year, eight times, gaining momentum each time, they returned, working their way from outsiders to become the dominant form of artistic expression of their time.

But most of all, so much easier today than in Paris 150 years ago, these individual painters did two things: They picked themselves and they did it together.

I am amused to learn that the Impressionist name actually came from a satiric piece.

I am not sure the moral of this story is to stick with it and one day you will succeed. There were 31 people who participated in the first event, but most of their names are unknown.

While I agree with Godin that it is important to pick yourself and that it is easier to do today than it was 150 years ago, eight years is an eternity in terms of trend and tastes and people’s expectations of results. Success might be possible sooner, but how many people have the endurance to wait that long to gain recognition.

That said, I still remember seeing Sen. John Fetterman speak at an APAP conference when he was still mayor of Braddock, PA and spoke about an observation Sen. Arlen Spector made about it taking seven years for any sort of policy to garner enough momentum and support to become implemented.

Benefits Of Incorporating Your Arts Career

h/t Artsjournal.com for linking to a really valuable article on Observer about considering creating a limited liability corporation (LLC) if you are an artist.  I recently created a post on ArtsHacker summarizing some of the ways in which an LLC protects artist’s personal assets in the case of lawsuits and in some cases, divorce proceedings.

This excerpt from Observer article summarizes how an artist would operate after forming an LLC:

….but most artists operating as one-man shops set up limited liability companies, according to Powers, where the LLC is the employer and the artist is technically the employee. When a sale or commission is made, the money is paid directly to the corporate entity, which then pays the artist, either in a lump sum or in increments (as a salary), and the artist pays taxes on that money as ordinary income. But not all the money transfers directly through to the artist. The corporate entity retains some cash to purchase art supplies, health insurance, workmen’s compensation to protect employees who may get injured during transit or installation, commercial premises and liability insurance—and, assuming the artist is successful enough, to hire employees or consultants.

The article discusses a number of legal scenarios an artist might find themselves in which the buffer of an LLC would be beneficial. More than just providing legal protection, they also note that forming an LLC would allow the artist to solicit investment to support their work.  Take a look at the ArtsHacker post or go straight to the article to learn more.


Should Your Work Be Protected By An LLC?