Tufts E-News

Combining Resources

The joint graduate degree program with Tufts and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts proves to be a win-win for both school communities.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.18.09] If you happen to stroll through the Tisch Gallery at the Aidekman Arts Center this week, David Brown asks you to remember one thing - this isn't your typical exhibit.

"You need to remember that what you're seeing is the culmination of three years of study - this is their terminal degree, this is what they came here to do," says Brown, the associate dean of academic affairs at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, commenting on the MFA Thesis Exhibition on display through May 24. "That's a very important perspective to look at this from. Because they came in and said, 'What am I going to do for three years of my life?' This is it."

The MFA Thesis Exhibition happens three times a year - December, April and May - and is the capstone event for students in the three-year joint graduate degree program offered by Tufts and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) in Boston.

"This exhibition is equivalent to a written thesis for other programs," Brown says. "When you see the exhibition, it's the equivalent of several small one-man shows, so students can be diverse in approach, media and direction, even though they're showing all at the same time."

MFA student Dan Angeli has spent the past three years focusing on process-oriented acrylic paintings, analyzing narrative conflicts. His thesis exhibit explores the juxtaposition between pornographic and war imagery. He notes that his interest in warfare comes from a desire to examine his grandfather's experience in WWII.



"I liked the fact that unlike some other MFA programs, this is a three year program, which I feel gave me more time to incubate my ideas," says Angeli.

According to Brown, the SMFA partnership with Tufts began in the early 1950s as institutions across the country were beginning to develop joint graduate degree programs

"Thanks to this partnership, students are able to pick from the extensive course offerings that Tufts has for upper level and graduate level students, which we would never be able to duplicate at an arts school the size of us," Brown says. "For Tufts, the university is getting artists in their classrooms, providing a creative perspective. We hear from faculty all the time that say, 'I'm so glad to have Museum School students in the class, because they have such a different perspective on some things, and they bring a different approach to a topic.'"

MFA students are required to take two art history courses and two graduate level courses in the liberal arts, such as economics, social, psychology, or an additional art history if the student so desires. With the variety of courses that Tufts offers, Brown says students are often able to take courses that correspond some aspect of their studio practice.

"Say you're going down your path and you realize you're doing all of this work based on biological imagery, and maybe you want to take a course on Rorschach, so you get into some sort of psychology class," Brown says. "That would be very difficult for us to reproduce being an exclusively studio school."

Conversely, Tufts students outside of the MFA program can take advantage of studio art classes on the SMFA campus.

The program appeals to artists from a variety of backgrounds. For instance, Keina Davis-Elswick already owned her own gallery, Sivadart Studio in San Francisco, but decided that anMFA was another much-needed notch in her belt. Her thesis is based on the idea of trying to regenerate memories from music.


"My dad used to DJ when I was growing up so I have all these memories related to music, like Christopher Cross's 'Sailing,' reminds me of my mother driving me to school every day in her green Volvo," Davis-Elswick says. "So I wanted to do something that was really personal and create pieces that revolved around album covers from my dad's vinyl collection and song lyrics."

The combination of theory and practice in the Tufts-SMFA program appealed to Davis-Elswick, who finished her degree in two years instead of three. "One of the things initially interested in the program was that the professors are working artists, so they are actively involved in the art community which is great."

For the students, showcasing their thesis work in the Tufts gallery gives them the opportunity to presenttheir art to a new and different audience.

"If I were to show my work at the Museum School gallery, most of the audience within the school would be somewhat familiar with my work, and it would feel somewhat homey," says Davis-Elswick. "The positive end of showing it at Tufts is that hopefully there will be a lot of people walking through who have never seen it and I hope in a way when people see they will be like 'Wow' this isn't anything like what I am used to seeing.

"When I was doing my thesis presentation, people were walking through the gallery and you could hear them saying 'What is going on over there?'" she laughs. "It is nice to be able to open my work up to a new audience. That is always important."

"In many cases the Tufts community is seeing these artists before they start to be visible in the commercial world," Brown says. "In fact, Daniel Phillips, who is one of the students who showed in December, is in a two-person show at the Judy Rotenberg Gallery [on Newbury Street in Boston] coming up this month."

Brown adds, "The Tufts community is kind of seeing a preview of who's going to be in the Boston and the wider scene in the coming months, which I would think is a really big benefit for Tufts."

 Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.


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