The UW-Madison Art Department strives to become the best fine arts program among its peers. What better way to enhance its reputation than to help send its degree candidates to prestigious residency programs and artist colonies?
The students get the career boost of a lifetime while the department promotes itself as a program that develops talent comparable to that of elite institutions around the country and the world.
“It’s a 24-7 art experience,” said Brandon Norsted (MFA 2009), who attended Skowhegan. “It’s very intense… like cramming three years of graduate school into nine weeks.”
“I met a lot of amazing people and now they are a part of my network,” said Naomi Schliesman (MFA 2009), who attended Vermont Studio Center.
“Every time I go there, I learn a bit more about glass… It’s a cool challenge,”
said Morgan Sims (MFA 2010), who was the printshop coordinator at Pilchuck Glass School.
Art Department faculty recognized an “everyone wins” opportunity when they carved out $20,000 from the department’s annual budget in unrestricted scholarship funds in order to send 22 graduate students to artist residencies, international conferences and other professional development opportunities this past summer.
“It seemed like a really appropriate use of the money,” said Professor Aris Georgiades, chair of the department’s scholarship committee. “That’s really how a program can invest in its reputation.”
MFA candidates and recent alumni can be the best ambassadors for the department. The networking and connections that students make at residency programs strengthen the department’s visibility in the art world and make for future friends and donors, Georgiades said.
“It’s a more creative use of scholarship funds, and we’d like to get some more,” he said.
Georgiades hopes the department, with assistance from its donors, can grow the newly established Graduate Student Support Fund to supplement students’ professional development.
With the fund, the faculty aims to supplement student travel opportunities, especially when students have been accepted to prestigious residency programs including Vermont Studio Center, Skowhegan, Pilchuck, Anderson Ranch Arts Center and Haystack – among the places the department’s students and recent grads attended this summer.
In Vermont, Schliesman completed two installations, three sculpture pieces and did some painting. She plans to use that work for proposals to galleries and for more shows.
Schliesman’s work impressed other artists there, who mostly came from private schools. They were surprised to discover that she attended UW-Madison.
“Some of the people who were interested in my work want to do future exhibits with me,” said Schliesman, who would have been unable to attend Vermont without funding from the department.
The most important thing she came away with was having the chance to network and be part of a community of emerging artists, something she had been trying to start while in school, she said.
“I got out of the academic setting and worked with artists in multiple disciplines… and talked to them about how they are surviving in the art world,” she said. “You learn what’s happening on the east coast, on the west coast, and internationally. It was amazing.”
Norsted also found an “international flavor” to his residency experience at Skowhegan, where he developed a new network of friends and professional connections.
“They want things to ‘happen’ when you meet people there, so they ask that you come with a ‘blank slate’,” he said. “Spontaneity is encouraged.”
People with common interests worked on projects together. Everyone went to the classes, lectures and studio visits.
“The experience I had was amazing. Everybody showed up with fresh eyes looking at my work,” Norsted said, adding that it was a much different experience from the familiarity of grad school. “They’re not worried about offending you and so you believe them … and you can take that or leave it.”
The classes, projects and the critiques from fellow students, faculty and visiting artists changed how Norsted thinks about and does his work, he said.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I would have used a credit card or got a loan if I hadn't gotten money from department,” he said. "But I was lucky to be able to do it."
If the department hadn’t kicked in $500 for his travel, Sims would have lost an opportunity to be the resident printshop coordinator at Pilchuck.
“It helped a lot ... it was worth it,” he said.
In 2007, Sims was invited to apply to Pilchuck as printshop coordinator, a position that come with food, lodging and opportunities to work on his own art.
“I got in and I had a blast so I applied again,” said Sims. “I go for the love of it – and for the professional development.”
They invited him back in 2008. Although he was able to budget $1,000 to get out to the Northwest last year, he almost turned the job down this year because of the high cost of travel.
“It would have been cost prohibitive for me to get there, but they held position for me just in case,” he said. “They like to have people come back.”
Working at Pilchuck gives Sims a leg up in his career because he has made connections with other staff and the visiting artists that have come through during his years there.
“I reunite with people I haven't seen in a year and I’m constantly meeting new people and amazing artists from all over the world,” he said. “The best part for me is the networking and who I get to meet.”
As a printmaker, Sims enjoyed the intense exposure to Pilchuck’s vitreography facilities and learned more every year. Also, the limited amount of print room material and equipment forced him to be more creative, he said.
“It’s not like the department here where you have everything at your disposal,” he said. “It’s just you there with the press, the inks and a suitcase.”
Visit this page for information on how you can support graduate student professional development.