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School Of Art’s Name Change Recognizes Its Growth, Reputation

Published: December 18, 2012

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The recent name change to the School of Art from the Art Department represents a new recognition of the size, depth, breadth and outstanding reputation of CSULB’s visual art programs.

“All we did was change one word but it was a meaningful change,” said Christopher Miles, interim dean of the College of the Arts and a member of the university since 1998. “In addition to saying something about the school’s status, it also lends a greater sense of identity to the school. Now there is a word that sums up the program’s size, breadth and depth in a way that the word ‘department’ never did. What’s going on in this program is bigger than a department. This is more than a matter of numbers. The school is bigger psychologically, emotionally and culturally. That is where the distinction lies.”

The mood of the School of Art since the name change is positive, said School of Art Director Jay Kvapil, a member of the university since 1986. “I think it’s lifted everybody’s spirits,” he said. “We’re big and we’re leaders nationally.”

According to Miles, the name change recognizes the excellence of the School of Art.

“The range of expertise is diverse among the faculty and among the disciplines represented in the curriculum,” he explained. “The name change has been discussed for years in terms of looking at the Schools of Art across the CSU. There are now three, including ours, San Jose State and San Diego State. Our program has matched and exceeded both programs in recent years. The name change indicates what we have always known, that this department is a flagship for the visual arts throughout the CSU system. We have been committed for years to the idea that students who enroll at CSULB will receive the full university experience. But it is an experience that is akin to what they would have had at stand-alone art schools. We have said for years that the Art Department was a school of art on a university campus. Now the name says what the university has known for years.”

Kvapil believes the name change elevates the School of Art’s status relative to other schools.

“We are now the largest publicly funded School of Art in the country with about 2,000 majors,” he said. “The undergraduate and graduate demand is very high. It is one of the hardest schools to get into on campus. Now this designation helps us compete with peers. We are definitely the flagship School of Art in the CSU system.

“The scope of the school includes 11 programs which I have always seen as ‘mini-schools’ because we have specialists in each program,” he continued. “One of the hallmarks of the School of Art is that its faculty members are deeply committed to teaching. Students get a lot of one-on-one teaching time with our faculty. Our students have access to five galleries featuring 150 student shows every year, to our strong foundation program, to the University Art Museum, to excellent facilities and equipment, to our extensive visiting artist program, and most importantly, access to it all because we are so affordable compared to the private schools that are our competitors.

“For the money and the kind of experience they will have, students find this program to be an absolute bargain,” Kvapil added. “CSULB competes. The reason this School of Art has a flood of applications is that students know they can get a level of instruction here comparable to private schools while emerging with a degree with low or no debt.”

The name change didn’t happen overnight, Kvapil said.

“It happened because the founding faculty members demonstrated a work ethic that continues to this day,” he explained. “When new faculty members join the campus, they are swiftly indoctrinated into the work ethic here. They have to keep up. Good students don’t flock to bad programs. If students connect, there is a reason.”

“Being called a School of Art is not an expression of something we hope to grow into someday,” said Miles. “It is an indication of what we have grown into now both here on campus and in the CSU system.”

CSULB has many resources that attract students, Miles believes. “The size of the school allows for a diversity of expertise,” he observed. “A small department usually supports just one art historian. Specialists spend a lot of time being generalists teaching outside their expertise. In our case, we have such a large student population that it allows us to have an entire art history faculty. That means we have highly specialized scholars in many disciplines.”

The school’s enrollment of first-generation economically disadvantaged students impresses Miles.

“This is a student population that doesn’t have the access to cultural resources that it ought to,” he suggested. “They find it hard to see a place for themselves in the production of culture. Providing a place that is accessible and offers creative people somewhere they can belong is our special mission.”

Being in Long Beach is also a plus, Miles argues. “It is not just an advantage for the School of Art but for all the arts at CSULB,” he said. “This campus is within driving distance of many Southern California art institutions. To the north is the Getty and Hammer and to the south is all of Orange County and San Diego. The L.A. region is one of this nation’s most important cultural hubs as far as artistic exhibition and distribution are concerned. For a discussion of the visual arts, this is a great place to be.”

The name change holds out two goals for School of Art, Miles concluded. “Our first goal is for the school is to continue to tell its story both on and off campus,” he explained. “Our second goal is to continue to respond to and incorporate cultural changes in the nation without falling victim to fashion. This is a School of Art that wants to encompass all the arts. This is a giant task but it is what has made the School of Art as rich as it is. We are in a time when culture is quickly changing and it is my hope the School of Art will continue keeping up even in even faster, more difficult times.”

–Richard Manly