Since hiring its inaugural executive director just before the COVID pandemic hit, the School of Art at the U of A has made tremendous strides, despite unusual times.
The school has experienced significant growth in all areas — including increasing from 300 to 500 students on average, from 36 to 55 full-time faculty members and being able to offer an unprecedented 415 scholarships amounting to more than $990,000. Incredible work is being done, but there is still important work yet to do.
“The milestones the School of Art has already achieved are a testament to the extraordinary talent of the faculty and staff working each day to create opportunities and change,” said Gerry Snyder, executive director of the School of Art. “Strengthening leadership and capacity at the School of Art is essential to continue building on this success and establishing a sustainable future. We need experienced and innovative leadership to pave the way as we continue to grow, strive to become a model for inclusion and diversity, and promote equal access to the arts.”
To achieve this, the School of Art recently implemented a new leadership structure, designed to strengthen the daily operations of the school, enhance academic and faculty governance, and foster a collaborative culture for long-term success.
At the center of this new structure is Marty Maxwell Lane, recently appointed director of the School of Art. Maxwell Lane has served in a leadership capacity for the school since 2018 — most recently as the associate director of the school. Snyder describes her as one of the most talented administrators he has ever worked with.
"Marty brings compassionate leadership to this position and a commitment to making the School of Art a national and international destination for art and design education," Snyder said.
Maxwell Lane is an associate professor of graphic design and a maker, researcher and writer. Her research focuses on design that facilitates learning and empowerment through investigations pertaining to design pedagogy, collaboration and participatory design. Her book, Collaboration in Design Education: Case Studies and Teaching Methodologies was published in 2020.
"It's an honor to serve as the director of the School of Art and to have the opportunity to collaboratively shape the school with so many amazing faculty, staff and students," Maxwell Lane said. "I'm continually humbled by our unique opportunity to intentionally and strategically build a place where we want to teach, research and learn. With our new leadership structure, we are creating the conditions for an exciting academic space that prioritizes access, transparency, empathy and meaningful new possibilities."
In addition to Maxwell Lane's leadership role, the School of Art created a new assistant director position recently accepted by endowed associate professor of art education Christopher Schulte.
As the assistant director, Schulte will focus on strengthening academic and faculty governance and School of Art policies and procedures. His experience with endowment responsibilities and opportunities will also help him provide support to the school’s faculty as endowment strategic planning is implemented and policies and procedures are enhanced.
Schulte is the founder and director of the Center for the Study of Childhood Art, which is an interdisciplinary research, teaching and community engagement center focused on reconceptualizing the study of childhood art. His scholarship, teaching and community engagement focus on the artistic, play-based and aesthetic practices of young children.
"Christopher is an exceptional colleague, devoted educator, collaborator, innovator and leader," Snyder said. "His expertise and focus will greatly contribute to the mission of strengthening daily operations and fostering a collaborative culture."
As the leadership team continues to strengthen and grow, Snyder added that this structure will also allow him to dedicate his time to the Arkansas arts community and to the development of strategic partnerships that will help to build the School of Art's national and international reputation as a hub for the study of art.
While Snyder, Maxwell Lane and Schulte are focusing on the overarching mission of the School of Art, they have also empowered individual program leaders to manage the intricate details and plans for their areas. These leaders and their areas of expertise include:
Angela LaPorte is the art education program director and a professor of art education. She teaches art education courses and oversees a talented group of faculty who model a collaborative work environment. Her research and teaching interests include diversity and inclusion across social, racial, generational and cultural boundaries, with a particular focus on understanding and reducing the implicit barriers that so often segregate individuals and communities.
John Blakinger is the art history program director and an endowed associate professor of contemporary art. He studies the history, theory and criticism of late modern and contemporary art, with a special interest in the relationship between aesthetics and politics. His research and teaching consider connections between art, science and technology; protest and activism in the arts; and art historical theory and methodology. He is working on a book exploring political controversies in contemporary art.
Alison Place is the graphic design program director and an assistant professor of graphic design. She is a designer researcher, practitioner and writer whose work examines the intersection of feminism and design as a space for critical making, radical speculation and the equitable redistribution of power. She teaches all level of design, specializing in speculative design for social impact and emerging technologies. Her forthcoming book, Feminist Designer: On the Personal and the Political in Design, will be published by MIT Press in 2023.
Sam King is the studio art program director and assistant professor of studio art. As the studio art program director, King oversees six media areas with over 30 faculty teaching half of the School of Art student enrollment. In addition to his leadership role, King teaches painting and drawing, and in his own studio is focused on abstract painting, working at the intersection of painting's material thresholds and the viewer's instinct for interpretation.
Zora J. Murff is the director of graduate studies for the studio art Master of Fine Arts program and an assistant professor of art in photography. He specializes in teaching the social capacity of images and the complicit entanglement of photography in the histories of racialization and Blackness as spectacle and commodity. Murff's work has been recognized and honored within academic spaces, fine art gallery spaces, publications and independent art organizations.
Dónal O'Donoghue is the director of graduate studies in art education. The Master of Arts in Art Education program will be launched in fall of 2022, and a Ph.D. program is currently in development. In addition, O'Donoghue is an endowed professor of art education, distinguished fellow of the National Art Education Association and senior editor of Studies in Art Education. He studies contemporary art, curatorial practice and education, with a particular interest in contemporary art's pedagogical potential, educative quality and distinctive capacity to function as a mode of scholarly inquiry and research.
Jennifer Greenhill, endowed professor of American art, is the director of graduate studies and museum partnerships with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in art history. She is working with colleagues at the university and museum to craft a new Master of Arts focused on arts of the Americas. Greenhill brings a wealth of experience to the position, such as teaching American art abroad as the Terra Foundation's Visiting Professor in Paris, France, and identifying key trends in scholarship for the co-edited volume, A Companion to American Art. She is currently writing a book about the visual techniques of suggestive advertising circa 1900.
Bree McMahon is the director of graduate studies for the Master of Design program, currently under review by the NASAD Commission on Accreditation. McMahon is also an assistant professor of graphic design. Her research explores methods for disrupting traditional approaches to design pedagogy. Alongside different collaborators, she develops and facilitates workshops for design students that examine complex topics through dialogical project prompts while incorporating opportunities for student conversations that encourage critical perspective and learning.
"This is an incredible group of leaders who continue to do so much for our students and to better the School of Art and our community beyond," said Jeannie Hulen, associate dean of the U of A's Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, which is home to the School of Art. "We're excited to see what they create and accomplish next to support the growth and success of the School of Art."
Todd Shields, dean of Fulbright College, agreed, adding, "For the School of Art to form, grow and reach these early successes in such a short amount of time is truly astounding."
"The School of Art's leaders are giving their all to make sure it is a place where the next generations of creative thinkers and problem solvers will emerge and spark innovation here and across the world through their art and design," he said.