In less than a month’s time, we were forced to winnow down our Valencia campus operations as much as we could. This dramatic change was driven by COVID-19 and our mutual efforts as a country to slow its spread. Faculty members scrambled to redeploy the spring curriculum into a remote learning framework. Students were forced to halt their projects and routines, and patiently wait for a new mode of learning to begin, one that none of us were expecting. And we all adapted to daily life from behind closed doors, amidst a world of bad news.
For all that’s changed since this global pandemic took hold, it’s especially important to honor our commitment to transform the world through artistic practice—something we cannot allow to change. While we scatter across a new CalArts diaspora, our mission remains firmly grounded in the same openness, experimentation, and creative freedom that have always bound together CalArtians.
Already, our values of persistence, rigor, and experimentation are guiding us through the ambiguity and challenges of our world today. As of this writing, in early April, we don’t know when everyone will be allowed to return to campus. But we see artists from every corner of our community rising up to meet and shape this moment.
This issue includes a story about our faculty’s journey to move their classes online. You can look forward to many more stories of the community response to the pandemic in our next issue and on the magazine’s website (thepool.calarts.edu).
Meanwhile, I’d like to bring you up to speed on what was a remarkable start to 2020. Over the winter, we featured CalArts’ reaffirmed mission statement in the main lobby: an expression of our identity, commitment, and drive. To all, the words are unmistakably clear: You belong here.
Our reaffirmed mission reads:
CalArts is a multidisciplinary community of artists.
Our ongoing educational endeavor is grounded in openness, experimentation, critical engagement, and creative freedom.
Through artistic practice, we transform ourselves, each other, and the world.
This collective declaration came from an eight-month, Institute-wide collaboration, the first element of the Strategic Visioning Project that we kicked off last academic year. Through a series of conversations with faculty, alumni, students, staff, and trustees, we mined CalArts’ earlier mission statement and honed our language. New drafts were reviewed and edited by the Strategic Visioning Committee and the CalArts community, engaging our new shared governance system for input, before the board took up its final review and ratification in December.
This deliberate, exhaustive, and detailed process is a cornerstone of the overall visioning effort—to create a blueprint for how CalArts will establish itself and its priorities in US society, the arts communities, and the global square. It gives us, and our successors, clear guidance for protecting the fundamental elements at our core—the things that make CalArts, CalArts—and for experimenting boldly while navigating the new challenges the world presents to us.
In March, the CalArts Board approved the outline for a Strategic Framework, which also went through our shared governance process. This formal step allows us to create yearly goals, and it makes tracking our progress toward these goals transparent, ensuring that our daily work together leads toward our larger aspirations. Expect to see this framework beginning this fall, when CalArts faculty and alumni will help to present it publicly.
I’d like to extend my gratitude to the entire CalArts community for participating in the work that has brought us to this point. Your efforts have embodied the very values that tie us together as CalArtians: agency, distinction, empathy, inclusivity. These central ideas, reinvigorated and held up, promise to lead us through the tensions gnawing at society, and especially at higher education, in the US.
As we write a new chapter of CalArts history, we build upon the more than five-decades-long foundation laid by artists from the LA Conservatory of Music and the Chouinard Art Institute, and the almost five more decades of artists who called Valencia, Calif., home. In this issue, we honor John Baldessari, a legendary Chouinard alum, who was a founding faculty member of the CalArts School of Art. His death on Jan. 2, at age 88, drew mourning from around the world. As the Los Angeles Times put it, John was “a gentle giant of conceptual art whose irreverent questions about the nature of art brought him international acclaim and shaped a generation of younger talent.” We all grieve as we find inspiration in his legacy.
Also in this issue, we delve into a new documentary that puts filmmaker and CalArts faculty member Nina Menkes in front of the camera for a change. Brainwashed had its start in Menkes’ popular lecture, “Sex and Power: The Visual Language of Oppression.” Plus, you’ll read about current students working to protect the world’s oceans.
During these difficult times I’m grateful to be part of CalArts, and I’m inspired by the work that our community puts forth every day. We’re putting our mission into practice, especially as we all confront a crisis. Through our constant transformation of education and of the arts, we stand to strengthen our collective perspective, our lives, and our society. In this way, we fulfill our civic duty to heal.
CalArtians were built for this moment.
Let’s keep rising.