Report of the FAS Task Force on Visual Culture and Signage

December 6, 2021

Dear members of the FAS community,

Last fall, as one of several steps the FAS is taking to advance racial justice in our community, I charged the FAS Task Force on Visual Culture and Signage with articulating a vision for how we evolve a more inclusive visual culture in FAS spaces, connecting our past with our present and our hopes for the future. After extensive outreach within our community and months of work considering our current practices, the Task Force has now delivered to me their final report, which I am delighted to share with you and encourage you to read in full. They have my deepest thanks for their extraordinary work.

The Task Force report offers an inspiring and ambitious vision for the future of our shared spaces. It calls for a dynamic approach to our visual culture and signage, one that takes seriously the practices of curation and understands our visual environment as a site of both profound educational opportunity as well as of consequential experience and affirmative community. It recognizes that the visual elements of our campus bear powerful messages about what we value, who we celebrate, and what kind of community we aim to foster. They set forth a clear set of principles that seek to bring our visual culture more fully into the cognitive life of our community, celebrate our institution’s strength in the arts, and intentionally animate our shared values of engaging with diverse perspectives and fostering a community anchored in inclusion, belonging, and accessibility. I fully endorse the principles they have articulated, grounded as they are in deep respect for the power of art in public spaces to spark dialogue and cultivate learning. And I am grateful for their recommendations for how to realize the report’s full vision and make space in our visual culture for the multitude of voices and stories that make up our institutional past, present and future.

To make the vision of the report a reality, we must first build the infrastructure and expertise necessary to support the dynamic curation of FAS spaces over the long term. Specifically:

  • I am establishing a new position for an FAS campus curator. The curator will have primary programmatic oversight for FAS visual culture and signage, including establishing a dynamic program of public art in the FAS, and will provide the leadership and professional and technical expertise to realize the full promise of the vision laid out in the report.
  • I am also forming a new FAS Committee on Visual Culture and Signage. The committee will act in a consultative and advisory capacity to the future curator, providing ideas and strategies for aligning visual culture practices with the principles and vision articulated in this report and helping to advance the Task Force’s vision in our community broadly. I am delighted to announce that Dan Byers, John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Director of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, has agreed to serve as the inaugural chair of the new committee. In addition to his outstanding service on the Task Force, Dan is also a leading expert on both curation and visual arts who will bring important insight to the work ahead. I am grateful to have the benefit of his expertise and leadership on this new committee.

Guided by the Task Force report, these two new entities will be charged with bringing its vision to life and ensuring its enduring impact. The spring will be an important time of implementation planning, including building out the membership and a formalized charge for the new committee and launching the search for the new curator. I look forward to communicating further about both of these activities in the coming months.

Among the first priorities for the new curator and the new committee will be to work with our community to advance visual renewal projects in the three priority opportunity spaces the Task Force identified:

  • The FAS Faculty Room
  • Annenberg Hall
  • The GSAS Student Center in Lehman Hall

I will commit the necessary resources to refresh the visual culture of these three priority spaces in a way that seeks to actualize the principles and guidance of the report, rebalancing the historical narrative and bringing to the fore overlooked individuals and histories that deserve recognition.

Of course, these are not the only spaces that deserve our attention, and the enthusiastic response to the Task Force’s work made clear that there is a great deal of excitement and energy in units across the FAS to reimagine their local spaces. As individual units pursue visual renewal efforts, I hope that you will be guided by the principles and guidelines of this report and use them to inspire and inform your own locally-led efforts. The report provides a strong foundation and an essential path forward for building a more vibrant and inclusive visual culture across the FAS.

The curation of our campus spaces is not merely an administrative responsibility; it’s also a pedagogical opportunity. Our historical campus is a living laboratory rich in artifacts, art, and architecture worthy of serious intellectual engagement. I fully endorse the recommendation to explore curricular innovations that will make the FAS visual culture a more integral part of our teaching and learning mission and will initiate work this spring in consultation with the Office of Undergraduate Education, the academic divisions, and SEAS to explore how we might better take advantage of the learning potential of our campus by creating incentives and pathways for new courses or modules to integrate our visual culture into the curriculum.

The report also includes a number of thoughtful recommendations for changes to our campus that do not rest solely within the purview of the FAS, including ambitious recommendations for expanding our program of campus tours and historical signage using digital content and technologies, establishing better wayfinding and interpretive signage, and expanding and improving our institution’s art loan and commission practices so that our community has greater access to a broader and more diverse range of artworks for circulation in FAS spaces. These are complex issues with many stakeholders outside the FAS and will require partnership with the University to advance. The Task Force’s report sets the stage for this future work, and I am committed to pursuing these recommendations together with colleagues in other parts of the University.

There is a tremendous amount of exciting work that lies ahead. The visual culture of the FAS is capacious and varied, and the Task Force’s vision for evolving it is big and ambitious. Enacting this vision will require time, patience, and generosity from our community. But I am also profoundly hopeful that the work ahead will be meaningful and transformative—not only for our physical spaces but also for the members of our community who inhabit them.

Let me close by underscoring my profound gratitude to the members of the Task Force for their extraordinary work and the insightful and inspiring approaches reflected in their report. In particular, I would like to thank the Task Force’s indefatigable chair, Robin Kelsey, whose fierce advocacy for bringing the visual arts into purposeful dialogue with our community is evident in the vision the Task Force has laid out. As their report makes clear, the work ahead belongs to us all, and we will chart our way forward as a community. As implementation planning advances this spring, I look forward to sharing more about how we will pursue these recommendations and the opportunities for our community to contribute.

 

Sincerely,
Claudine

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Claudine Gay
Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences