College of Art's golden age Lazarus era: Excellence, eminence and growth replaced survival in school's quest for success.

October 04, 1998

INEXORABLY over the past two decades, the nation's oldest art college has changed, so incrementally that no one could say when the change occurred.

Maryland Institute, College of Art used to be a regional art school primarily for talented Maryland students, struggling in an era when takeover by a larger institution seemed a prerequisite for survival. Now it has half again as many students, who have met higher standards and are drawn mostly from outside Maryland. One of 34 independent art colleges in the country, it has joined a handful of the most eminent in terms of students' careers, faculty honors or other commonly used comparisons.

No moment defined the change. It occurred incrementally. Admission became more selective. A couple of buildings turned into a campus, with a true collegiate feel, straddling Mount Royal Avenue. A residence hall grew in Bolton Hill, not altering that neighborhood so much as extending it. More Presidential Scholars came, more graduates won honors and fellowships. Small wonder that the art college, fresh from a $17 million capital campaign that raised $23 million, is celebrating this year with splashy events and programs marking the 20 years of President Fred Lazarus IV.

In this period, the school of fine arts has flourished -- integrating computer design into all programs while strengthening such traditional skills as life drawing; adding majors and graduate programs; and branching out from fine arts into design and art education.

Along the way, Mr. Lazarus has increased minority enrollment, minority presence in art education nationwide and community outreach both locally and nationally. He has boosted Maryland Art Place and the annual summer Artscape for local artists to exhibit; he is chairman of Americans for the Arts, an advocacy group that helped save the National Endowment for the Arts.

National eminence has not sacrificed the Maryland Institute's indispensability to metropolitan Baltimore, which provides about 3,000 students to its continuing studies programs. Rather, it has enhanced Baltimore as a center for the arts and for people in arts careers.

The best thing about the Lazarus era, now being celebrated, is that it is by no means over.

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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