|Me, top left with students|
Worcester has the potential to be a world class city-- or at least as World Class as Boston and Providence. What both those cities offer that the Woo does not is a serious art college. Note to city planners; Artists make urban centers better. They sway elections (ask Obama), they generate revenue and create vibrant exciting places for everyone.
Worcester is bigger than Providence, it's got ten colleges but it does not feel like a college town. It's retention of those same college graduates hovers at ridiculously poor numbers. Why? The perception that there is nothing here.
It's not true, but perception is often more powerful than reality.
The Worcester Art Museum under new director Matthias Waschek is taking bold chances offering exhibits that not only appeal to a broader audience but is not afraid to push against the old guard, it's no secret that there has been some friction between WAM and other non-profits in the city. It's no secret that WAM lost Youth Art Month (an ongoing annual exhibit for 40+ years featuring the work of school age students chosen for display from all over the Commonwealth) to Boston when it short-sightedly felt it didn't have room for it because of the accumulation of the Higgins Armory Exhibits that were temporarily housed in the gallery space of the education wing.
It's no secret that Art All State, a totally unique experience born at WAM 27 years ago has moved on, this year it will be held at UMass Dartmouth with a connection to the New Bedford Art Museum, who recognizes what a jewel it is.
I've spent the past two years trying to broker a deal to get both events back to WAM, and while the education leadership tells me they are committed to the idea, it's not what I hear when I speak to the other side.
Former Education Director Honee Hess and Class Program Manager Christopher Whitehead and I spearheaded some initiatives which would have re-instated WAM's College Credit programs with local Universities, expand our class programs to offer serious study for artists young and old, and to reinstate our long missing certificate programs which allow more advanced courses of study.
With the departure of both Honee and Christopher it's no surprise that course was changed. The focus at WAM is audience engagement, bringing people in thru the doors, at what I feel at the cost of restoring the quality of the class programs. While I'm all for troubled inner city youth to have a place to practice art, that practice often becomes little more than an after school program with little instruction, critique or desire to improve-- and Worcester already has avenues for that course with the Youth Center, the Boys and Girls Club and the Dream Center all of which offer viable alternatives to hanging out on a street corner and themselves do great work.
What we lose at WAM is the Keenan Cassidy level student, those students in junior and senior high school who excel at their current art program and need study the public schools can't offer due to budget or class sizes. Keenan became my student at 13 with an endless curiousity of art techniques, wanting to push his own abilities to a level far beyond his age. I helped him organize his first solo show at age 14, giving him the understanding of not only how to hone his craft, but how artists hang and exhibit their work and create a revenue which allows them to do art full time.
Keenan is currently a senior at Rhode Island School of Design, one of the top art schools in the country (and yup-- it's in world class city Providence).
Keenan's not alone-- I could rattle off a list of these gifted students who craved serious studies in the arts, Ryan Hacker, Sarah Stoutimire, Andy Austin and literally hundreds more that I've worked with over the course of those fifteen years.
Worcester needs a real accredited art school.
Maybe I'll start one.