03 February 2010

Growing Pains: The Expansion of MCA

By Lauren Rae Holtermann, Editor

How many of you have a class that gets out past 8PM? Or even 9 or 10PM? Have you ever walked into a classroom or lab in the evening to find a dozen Memphis City School teachers staring at you blankly? Did you ever wonder why?
Part of Memphis College of Art’s mission statement is small with purpose. The school’s enrollment has generally hovered around 300 students, with 285 in the undergraduate program, and around 15 in the graduate program. However, over the past two years alone, the student body has grown to about 450 students, and frankly, there just aren’t enough places to put them all.

MCA is not a typical institution for higher learning in a lot of ways, not excluding geographically. We have no campus; rather, our college is confined to one building at 1930 Poplar Avenue that is under a 100-year-old lease with the City. Part of that lease are very particular limitations on how, if at all, the school is allowed to physically expand. In a nutshell, we can’t build outward or upward. You do the math.

So how is MCA going to accommodate the ever-increasing influx of new blood with the same amount of space it’s occupied for eighty years? Believe it or not, there is 6,500 square feet of space not purposed for student use in the building, and it’s sitting right under our noses: faculty and staff offices.

Starting at the end of this semester, administrative offices (Student Services, Admissions, Business Office) will be moving into the Grad Center at 1939 Poplar. By summer’s end, all of the professor’s offices will be relocated there as well.

The graduate program, which has been steadily expanding in part due to the recent demand for public school art teachers, accounts for about 90 students of the record breaking 452 head enrollment of last Fall. That’s a 600% increase since I started my undergrad career.

The grad program consists of MFA, MAT, and MAArt degrees, has been spread out between the constricted space of the current Grad Center, and classrooms throughout Rust Hall in the hours before, after, and between regularly scheduled undergraduate classes. As I mentioned before, if you’ve ever wonder around the school in the evening, you’ve probably accidentally interrupted one of them.

So where are all of these poor displaced Grad students going to go? To 477 S. Main--a 1920’s era building with five stories and a basement. Fifty thousand square feet that will be in the very near future known as the Memphis College of Art Graduate School. Grad students will have more than enough space and facilities to themselves, and as a result, the program itself is due for expansion and improvement, such as the addition of new majors, like perhaps Photography or Graphic Design.

Other than the transportational inconvenience it may potentially pose to some students and faculty, it will be nothing but benefits for those associated with the MCA Graduate Program. But how will it affect the rest of us?

That 6,500 square feet of newly freed-up space will be repurposed for liberal study classrooms, studios, and new Mac labs.

The response from students and teachers has been mixed. Betty Spence, Director of the Writing Center, is opposed to the move, saying, “This move will put a substantial dent in--if not destroy--the teaching and learning environment at MCA as we know it.” The close-knit community of students and the proximity of teachers is something that makes Memphis College of Art different than universities. In response, President Jeff Nesin says, “The goal and our job is to give you [students] the best we can give you.”

And in the long run, that seems to be what the school is doing. There will be more space for undergraduate classes in Rust Hall, meaning fewer classes will be scheduled in the late evening. Graduate students will have their own space and more opportunities for growth. Even the relocated professors and instructors will be making out fine, as each will have their own private office spaces, an upgrade for a lot of teachers, who have literally been put anywhere space permits—broom closets not excluded.

Originally, amidst all of the controversy and opposition from MCA instructors over who should stay and who should move, it was declared everyone would. Every office besides the administrative offices on the first floor (those spaces can’t be renovated into classroom space) and the Security offices will be emptied. However, there will be a few exceptions to the rule based on the location of the office in question, and the need for that professor to be near the studio. For example, Haley Morris-Cafiero, the photography instructor and lab tech, will probably stay where she is, as will Bill Price and Maritza Davila, who teach Metalsmithing and Printmaking respectively.

President Jeff Nesin responds to the ensuing controversy with, “Any change at all makes people crazy for the first fifteen minutes. Then a new year begins, and no one really remembers things being any different.” I related the situation to the recent EPA policy enforced move of smoking areas from the beloved Smokers Alley to the island of concrete twenty feet away, now lovingly referred to as Smokers Pad. In return, he mused back to the days when Smokers Alley was created, when smoking indoors was originally banned.

Sherry Yelvington, Vice President For Finance And Administration, assures me, “We’re working to make things better for you students, not more difficult.”

“The more we move, the more we will activate an actual campus,” adds Nesin. The musical chair game is set to be complete by August 1st, just in time for the Fall 2010 semester. Shuttle services will be arranged between the separate buildings all day rather than just morning and afternoon.

And as for us? We have nothing to worry about, and a lot of look forward to. I will be the first to admit that the situation is not ideal. The accessibility of faculty and staff during any standard school day is convenient and by now, this being my eighth semester, completely expected. Like Nesin said, it will take some getting used to, but every breathing, expanding entity goes through some growing pains.


kjester said...

Really nice, explanatory article. Nice to see a student looking at things from all sides of the argument.

Lauren Rae Holtermann said...

I try to stay objective. Doesn't really help anyone to get into a tizzy if there is a decent argument against it.