Broadening the spectrum of artists

July 30, 1995|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Jeffrey Cook, a big guy with a gentle manner, stands at a classroom table where four boys work on paintings and sculptures. They're among the 36 students in Cook's art program at Woodbourne Center for emotionally disturbed children -- a program he revived last year and turned into one of the most popular activities at the school.

"Computers and art are their favorite classes," he says with a touch of pride.

Cook wouldn't have gotten the Woodbourne job without the Master of Fine Arts degree he earned from the Maryland #F Institute, College of Art in 1993. And he wouldn't have the master's degree without the Ford Foundation/Philip Morris Fellowships for Artists of Color, which made it possible for him to go to graduate school. He wouldn't have been able to afford it otherwise.

"Laws of reciprocity govern the universe," says Cook, 31, of his Woodbourne experience. "You get something, you give something. But even if you don't get something, you give something. It's a really good feeling."

The fellowships have had a similar impact on other recipients.

Renee Townsend teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and takes part in residencies to create art in public schools, public housing and parks.

Pat Ward Williams teaches at the University of California, Irvine; her art has been included in two recent shows at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art.

Greg Henry has taught at three universities in York Times and Art in America.

Arvie Smith teaches at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Ore.; his art has been shown in New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Baltimore's Tom Miller recently had a joint retrospective at the Baltimore Museum of Art and Maryland Art Place; his work was also included in the traveling exhibition "Next Generation: Southern Black Aesthetics."

All these artists hold master of fine arts degrees, which they probably would not have been able to get without the fellowships.

Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Ford/Philip Morris program grants 20 fellowships a year to African-American, Asian, Hispanic and American Indian students at four of the nation's leading art colleges: the Maryland Institute, the Yale School of Art, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the California Institute of the Arts. It has been responsible for an increase in minority enrollment at all four schools. So far, 179 fellows have graduated from the program.

Creating role models

The program began as an idea of Maryland Institute president Fred Lazarus.

"It goes back to my arrival here in 1978," says Lazarus. "I was struck by the paucity of students and faculty of color here and at other independent colleges of art."

The problem, he found, was twofold. Without minority faculty members as role models, minority art students had trouble seeing themselves pursuing full-time careers in art and thus tended not to apply to graduate schools.

But since you need a master's degree to teach at most art colleges, the only way to create a pool of future minority faculty members was first to increase the number of graduate students.

The institute, unlike many other art colleges, already had an African-American in a top administrative post in the person of Leslie King-Hammond, who has been dean of graduate studies since 1976. But that wasn't enough.

"After years of recruiting," recalls King-Hammond, "even though

people might be attracted to the institution through my presence, money was a critical deterrent. Maybe every other year a person of color was admitted."

Lazarus took a bold step to address the problem. He persuaded other leading art schools to join the Maryland Institute and apply to the Ford Foundation as a group. Ford agreed to inaugurate the scholarship program and granted $800,000 over five years before bowing out.

At that point, Philip Morris agreed to fund the program, committing $1,403,000 for the next seven years, funding that will end in 1997. At that point, the participating colleges will have to find another source.

The colleges have many success stories to tell prospective donors.

Tom Miller was in the first group of fellows, entering the two-year program in 1985. Miller, 40 at the time, had earned a bachelor's degree from the institute in 1967 and taught art in the city school system ever since. He could only create his own art in his spare time.

"I did one or two major pieces a year," he says. "I had known Leslie King-Hammond for years, and when she told me about this program, I was reluctant to do it at first. It was scary. It was taking a chance. It didn't pay."

The opportunity to concentrate on his art full-time for two years swayed him. "It enabled me to see what it was like to function as an artist," he remembers, "to spend all your time making a painting or a piece of sculpture. It helped me to think on a more professional level, to actually consider this as my profession -- an artist.

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