End of Semester Letter from Head of School Charlie White

Posted on December 22, 2020

Dear School of Art Community,

I hope this note finds everyone safe, healthy, and focused on family, friends, and the very real prospect of a better and brighter tomorrow. This has been the single most challenging period in many of our lives, and I want to congratulate all our students, faculty, and staff on finishing an extraordinarily difficult semester! There’s no denying that the worsening pandemic and divisive election have taken a toll on each of us, and I hope that your winter break provides a much-needed rest. 

I am incredibly proud to be part of our community, and I would like to take a moment to offer a few words of gratitude. Thank you to our faculty, who have continuously reinvented curricula to make sure their courses were meaningful and accessible to all of our students. Thank you to our staff, who designed new systems to allow our facilities to remain open for those here in Pittsburgh, and who made sure that those elsewhere had the materials and tools they needed. And, finally, thank you to the students, who, despite challenging circumstances, created work that examines our individual and collective experiences at this moment in history with grace and insight.  

In recognition of these efforts, I would like to celebrate some outstanding achievements of this fall. First, If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to do so, I invite you to see some of this term’s wonderful student work in our online galleries. From drawings that were literally made by breath and ink, to animations that explore the surreal, to photographs and prints that capture isolation and solitude, the range of expression is impressive.

CMU School of Art students are among the most ambitious I have ever known. This fall was no exception. Junior Sanna Legan applied her artistic practice toward political activism; junior Shori Sims’ work was featured in Printed Matter’s Artistamp series; and senior Aren Davey was selected to produce a video for Ars Electronica on free open source tools. Among our graduate students, Lena Chen and Caroline Yoo presented new performances in virtual spaces and Laura HudspithRebecca Shapass, and Max Spitzer exhibited their work in group exhibitions.

Likewise, the work of our faculty reached well beyond the confines of the classroom. Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow Alisha Wormsley’s ongoing project “There Are Black People in the Future” continued to shape conversations around racial justice across the country with new iterations in several cities; Cooper-Siegel Assistant Professor of Art Devan Shimoyama’s custom “I Voted” sticker appeared on the cover of New York magazine; Assistant Professor Katherine Hubbard joined the highly regarded Company Gallery; and Assistant Professor Johannes DeYoung screened his work in several virtual festivals.

Also of note this fall, we hosted nearly 100 visiting artists, curators, and scholars across all of our courses, each chosen by professors with the aim of increasing the diversity and range of perspectives presented in class. We are excited to match this effort in the spring. Also, in light of the impact the pandemic has had on the economy, we have made big changes in the professional development we are providing our students. Taking advantage of the ubiquity of virtual meetings, we’ve begun monthly career panels, each centered around opportunities in creative fields such as AR/VR, art spaces, publishing, and animation. Not only do these panels provide students an opportunity to learn about various career paths, they also allow students to network with leaders in creative technology, arts institutions, entertainment media, and more. Even when we’re all back together in person, we will continue to provide regular opportunities for students to meet creative leaders across the country via virtual interactions.

Finally, this semester has given us a chance to catch up with several incredible alumni, all of whom continue to inspire us. We spoke with Elizabeth “Betty” Asche Douglas (BFA ’51), Beaver County’s “First Lady of the Arts” and CMU Art’s first Black student; Swetha Kannan (BFA ’16), graphics and data journalist at the Los Angeles Times; game designer and entrepreneur Robyn Tong Gray (BSCA ’11); interdisciplinary artist and co-founder of the Black Lunch Table Jina Valentine (BFA ’01); and more.

In closing, I’d like to reiterate my words of thanks to all the members of our community for their dedication and perseverance during this semester. My best wishes to all for a happy and healthy holiday season!

Charlie White
Regina and Marlin Miller Head of School
School of Art
Professor of Art
Carnegie Mellon University

IMAGES ABOVE: Student artwork left to right, top row: Angelica Bonilla, Mairead Dambruch, Yoona Sung; bottom row: Laurence Gao, Shori Sims, Sanna Legan