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UICA + KCAD: What can we expect from this new alliance?

The merger of KCAD and UICA, while a boon to the college, may compromise the arts organization.

During the campus meeting Tuesday morning, KCAD president David Rosen indicated that the college would be engaging in a collaborative relationship with UICA, so when the formal announcement was made on Friday morning, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. The merger of Kendall College of Art and Design, Ferris State University and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art may not be an ideal solution, but something of this nature had to occur if UICA was to continue operating.  

Change was imminent. Local media has provided periodic updates about UICA’s fiscal crisis and changes in administration. Over the past few months, two additional long-term members of staff have left, and those remaining on the curatorial board were recently informed that their services are no longer needed. The positions of both curator and executive director have been given to two individuals who are KCAD alumni, which reinforces concern that UICA will become a mere annex to KCAD, in spite of assurances to the contrary.

Statements issued about the merger, and responses to questions from the media, indicate that being more accessible and family friendly is high on the list of priorities. There is nothing wrong with increasing attendance at events, or expanding membership. But in light of these ambitions, it may be difficult for UICA to stay true to its mission. I don’t believe that contemporary art must be controversial in content, or unconventional in form to be relevant or compelling, but I think it is impossible to showcase contemporary art that will not challenge the viewing audience.

My skepticism about this marriage of convenience is tempered by two realizations. UICA board president, Kathryn Chaplow’s statement regarding the merger specifically addresses the need to balance marketing and visibility, with the organization’s role as forum for contemporary art. Secondly, having worked at KCAD during and after its merger with Ferris State University, my experience was that while it was not a totally seamless transition, and Ferris has indeed allowed KCAD to grow and evolve as a semi-autonomous institution.

I wish this couple the best of luck in the future.

Disclosure: Tamara Fox has been employed as faculty at Kendall College since 2002.

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