Cranky Joe (or, Save the Arts Program)

When Miss G is all fidgety, I call her Squirrely Joe. When she's bossy, she's Micro-Managey Joe. When she's off or withdrawn, she's my Sad Joe.

Today, I am Cranky Joe.

I was cranky on Sunday, so I didn't post. Figured I’d wait till I was less cranky, but here we are at Tuesday and Cranky Joe still stands in full force. Grouchy and surly with his arms crossed.

Among the contributing factors is discovering that my alma mater is axing their lone art history professor (one of the best teachers I've ever had, as well as one of the most continuously fierce student and art program advocates) and two other full-time visual arts teachers.

This possibly means no more art program at all at the university.

No more BFA is semi-understandable; it’s a springboard degree into graduate school and not much else. Not sure how useful it is in the grand scheme of things, even though I have my very own framed up on my wall. So if it were just that, I'd be grumbly but at least it would make some kind of sense to me.

But these cuts won't just amputate the BFA. They could very well sever the whole program. No more BA in Visual Arts for artists who want more variety and less concentration than a BFA. No more Arts Education degree training new art teachers to pass beauty and inspiration down to the next generation.

The Ed-Arts building will be oddly named just "Ed."

I understand budget cuts. I really do. I understand times are tough everywhere. But the arts program is not just a budget cut to me.

When Miss G's dad moved out, I lost the future we'd planned out together. I needed a new one, needed it frantically and as soon as possible. I found it at the college across the street. I uncovered solid ground when I thought none remained. The skills I learned there brought me to where I am now, having spent the last slew of years painting murals and wood grains and applying gold leaf in high-end Las Vegas casinos. Because of my degree and that program, I know how to market my husband's sculptures and helped craft his resume; he has works in office buildings now, and even had one of his sculptures accepted into our citywide sculpture walk.

I've had a bunch of different majors through my college career but not one of them was a home like the arts program at BSU.  And it's not just me. Those classes were a lifeline for every person taking them, pulling us out of whatever mire we'd landed in, lifting us out of dry days of academic lectures. Something to follow to a new life.

There's always someone fun in one of the studios, someone who brings a coffee maker to their work station and offers you a cup. Someone who takes a break from soldering or slapping clay around to give you a shoulder to cry on or bum you a smoke. Someone willing to help you stretch a canvas or help you light your show or hang posters. The professors there don’t just give you grades, they give you life advice and career direction. I have no idea if BSU has student counselors; I didn’t need one. I had art professors.

It’s not a program. It’s a community. It's a family. One I miss every single day.

My classmates went on to open their own pottery studios and galleries or continued to grad schools. They've won awards and been featured in books. They've enriched small towns, contributed to the diversity of larger ones. They've become teachers in grade schools and art therapists healing broken spirits. And that's just the ones I know about.

The arts program doesn't bring in the kind of revenue a hockey game does? Okay, I get that. Then brainstorm ways to make it more viable. Charge for gallery shows. Hold silent auctions. Bring in visiting artists. Scrounge up grants, shuffle priorities. Instead of keeping the arts program at bay like a red-headed stepchild, embrace it. Learn its strengths. Make it work for the University instead of ignoring it and hoping it’ll go away. Because it will eventually go away, and the school and surrounding community will be poorer for it.

In high school, we did this project where we had to invent a civilization. Each civilization, we were told, has universal elements. Things like a system of government. Currency. And one of the elements was art. I remember, because it struck me as funny. Currency, government-- sure. But art? Art as necessary to civilization?

Yes. God, yes.


  1. I like Cranky Joe. She's very eloquent.
    There is a definite feeling of loss on campus these days.

  2. This should be a "Letter to the Editor" at the Pioneer.