UICA + KCAD= A Marriage of Love or Convenience?

Wedding cake

Have you ever attended the beautiful wedding of two individuals you feared were ill-prepared for the reality of marriage? Maybe they’re too young, or it’s a third marriage, or maybe they’ve only known each other only a few months. It’s hard to ignore your misgivings, even as you wittness the ceremony.  I felt similarly conflicted at the media event announcing the merger of Kendall College of Art and Design and Ferris State University with the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art.

At the faculty and staff meeting on Tuesday, KCAD president Dr. 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 KCAD, Ferris State University and the UICA  may not be an ideal solution, but something of this nature had to occur if UICA was to continue operating.  Perhaps a shotgun wedding was in order.

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 have finally been informed that the committee has been eliminated.  The positions of both curator and executive director have been assigned to KCAD alumni.  It’s not yet possible to accurately gauge the abilities of either, and we hope that both excel in their new jobs, but it’s nonetheless remarkable that these critical positions in a floundering organization were not open to a national search. These hirings do nothing to assuage concerns that UICA will become a mere annex to KCAD, despite assurances to the contrary.

Almost without exception, the language in the statements issued the 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’s nothing wrong with increasing attendance at events, or expanding membership, but in light of these ambitions, it will be challenging for UICA to stay true to its mission. It isn’t that contemporary art must be controversial in content, or unconventional in form to be relevant or compelling, but it’s impossible to showcase contemporary art that will not challenge the viewing audience.

We wish this couple the best of luck.

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