Artists of Color

September 30, 1992

The Maryland Institute, College of Art may not be as famous as the Peabody School of Music but it is one of Baltimore's true cultural gems. Its undergraduate and graduate programs attract gifted students from across the country, and its alumni regularly go on to successful careers as practicing artists, arts administrators and arts educators.

Yet until recently the institute enrolled relatively few minority students. For many minority students, the cost of graduate study in the fine arts was simply prohibitive. That barrier, in turn, severely limited the number of minority artists qualified to teach art at the college level, creating a vicious circle in which the talents and artistic perspectives of blacks, Asian Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans were virtually excluded from traditional art school curriculums.

Then in the mid-1980s, Maryland Institute President Fred Lazarus began exploring ways to bring fine arts higher education within the grasp of all gifted students, including those from previously under-represented minority groups. His efforts helped win underwriting from the Ford Foundation for the Fellowships for Artists of Color program, which matched school contributions toward the tuition costs for minority students in the two-year master of fine arts program.

The program has been a success since its inception. Minority enrollment at the Maryland Institute has grown from just 1.3 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 1989. By last May, 100 students had earned MFAs under the program.

Two years ago, Philip Morris replaced the Ford Foundation as the principal underwriter of the project. This month, Philip Morris announced it would extend its support for two more years with a $245,000 grant that will enable 20 more minority artists to pursue fine arts degrees at the Maryland Institute College of Art and its four partners in the fellowship program: the Cranbrook Academy, the California Institute of the Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Yale School of Art.

Diversity is an essential ingredient for a vibrant arts scene. The Maryland Institute has been a key player in helping achieve that goal in Baltimore. Its undisputed success in attracting gifted artists of color has enriched the cultural life of this city and its premier fine arts academy.

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