The School of Visual Arts on Diversity in Creative Spaces

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The School of Visual Arts is one of NYXT’s newest community partners, and to celebrate we talked with Joyce Rutter Kaye, SVA’s Director of Communication. In this interview we talked about the institution’s values and goals, the addition of Dr. Jarvis Watson as the School’s director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the power of art as a medium for change and justice, and their strategies to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.


"We take great pride in producing graduates who are prepared to make an impact. They are innovative, self-reliant, professional and represent many cultures. In the best of cases, they are agents of change."

Joyce Rutter Kaye, SVA’s Director of Communication.


What can you tell us about how SVA was first established?


SVA was established by co-founders Silas H. Rhodes and Burne Hogarth in 1947, as the Cartoonists and Illustrators School. The school began with three teachers and 35 students, most of whom were World War II veterans who had a substantial part of their tuition underwritten by the G.I. Bill. The College was renamed the School of Visual Arts in 1956. The first degrees were offered in 1972, and by 1983, the College had introduced its first graduate offering, a master of Fine Arts in painting, drawing and sculpture. Today the College offers 31 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. A timeline of SVA’s history can be found here.


The Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives, located in the SVA Library, is a unique resource to study the work of the great designers, illustrators and art directors who have taught and studied at SVA. The School of Visual Arts Archives preserves and makes accessible the publications and records of SVA, from its subway poster campaign to its exhibitions by professional and student artists to the faculty and programs dating back to its founding in 1947. 


How would you describe SVA's culture and values? 


Our core values include participation in the global creative community; diversity and inclusion; freedom of expression; and professionalism and integrity.


What were some of SVA's projects and missions for this year, and how did you adapt them to the current covid-19 pandemic?


One of our most important missions was hiring a director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to lead SVA toward a more inclusive campus and community, and in December, we hired Dr. Jarvis Watson, an accomplished veteran of higher-education administration who joined SVA following 14 years at Stony Brook University, where he most recently served as assistant dean for Student Support Services. Among his other responsibilities, Dr. Watson leads SVA’s DEI Task Force, formed in 2018 and comprising members of the College’s academic and administrative leadership and staff. The Task Force prioritizes addressing long-standing inequities in the experiences of SVA’s BIPOC community members and fosters antiracist progress on campus. 



And while we could not have anticipated rapidly moving to online instruction in March, the transition worked remarkably well; creative people thrive on hurdles and limitations, and this experience—our “new normal"—is no exception. As this video demonstrates, new opportunities for further pedagogical innovation, forged from the rapid transition to online art education, were the silver lining of this challenging year. 


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As the Director of Communication at School of Visual Arts, Joyce Rutter Kaye leads communication and media strategies to generate awareness and understanding of the College and its 31 degree programs through multiple channels, including website and social media platforms, video content, publications, press outreach and promotional programs and initiatives. She is also chair of SVA’s Emergency Management Committee.


The visual arts field historically has had a very strong connection with justice and activism. Could you share some experiences from the SVA's community and students where we can see this interrelation?


Recent projects addressing racism and social injustice have included BFA Design Faculty’s Masks for Unity project combating racism with community-building; the community’s outpouring of responses to Black Lives Matter, which we’ve covered so far on our site in multiple reports, as well as the 2019  Black Student Union exhibition "Here We Are" -- Prior to the election BFA Illustration faculty member Yuko Shimizu created this “Defend Democracy” poster for the Unity project; and BFA Interior Design: Built Environments students enticed people to vote by reimagining the traditional booth through innovative design. Though these were never realized due to the pandemic, the designs are super cool. Some additional creative examples of getting out the vote include work by

BFA Design student Sam Lee; BFA Design student Ryan Shea; And BFA Illustration student Oliver Perry Rauch. We’re also proud of our students’ “Murals of Hope” project, which aims to bring some light and positivity to the community at the end of a long and difficult year. 


Left: Yuko Shimizu's 'Defend Democracy' poster for The Unity Project. Right: Yuko Shimizu.



How does the school create space for dialogue about topics like equality, diversity and human rights?


It’s written in our mission: To educate future generations of global creative citizens to foster cultural and social change that promotes our core values through the pursuit and achievement of their professional goals. We take great pride in producing graduates who are prepared to make an impact. They are innovative, self-reliant, professional and represent many cultures. In the best of cases, they are agents of change.



What's coming up for SVA?


This year, we’ve had a limited number of students on campus, living in our residence halls and using our facilities—such as darkrooms, art studios and  the library. We’re looking forward to welcoming students back into classrooms as soon as it’s safely possible.

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