by Jen Delos Reyes
Two countries. Five conferences. Seven years. 14 partnerships. Over 700 presenters. Over 1600 attendees. Since the ﬁrst Open Engagement conference in 2007 this event has become a key meeting point for people interested in socially engaged art. Open Engagement: Art After Aesthetic Distance began as a hybrid project that used a conference on socially engaged art practices as its foundation and incorporated elements including workshops, exhibitions, residencies, pedagogy, curatorial practice and collaboration. I wanted to foster a different kind of conference—one that worked in the way I wanted to see it work: with a sense of togetherness, putting emerging and established voices side by side, highlighting different ways of knowing and learning, and serving as a site of production, as well as reﬂection. I wanted to contribute to the discourse on socially engaged art in a meaningful way. When Open Engagement began it was a student project. I was a graduate student. The conversations that I wanted to engage in were not happening at my school in Saskatchewan, so I decided to create the situation that would allow for me to have these discussions with people doing similar work. Open Engagement was the basis of my education, and now is a major foundation of my work as an educator.
This year as in most years my experience of Open Engagement happens mostly in the lead up—in conversations with students to determine the themes of exploration for the year, in the selection of keynote presenters, in the scheduling, planning, writing, partnerships, and all things organizing. In the day to day of the event itself I get to attend very few sessions, usually only the opening and closing sessions, keynote events, and a hand full of other projects and for a limited amount of time. My time during Open Engagement is mostly spent assisting and making sure things are running smoothly. But in that way of moving through the conference I intersect with people all throughout the day that I ask what they have attended, and what their thoughts are on the experience at the conference so far. This idea of needing to talk to others to fully experience the conference is intentional. Because of the parallel programming no one person can take in all of the projects and sessions that form the event on their own. We need to work together, and see from multiple perspectives to get a full sense of the ﬁeld.
In 2010 at Open Engagement Pablo Helguera said that he had always heard that a conference is meaningful in as much as it generated new questions to follow up. If you didn’t ﬁnd new questions then maybe it was not successful. I had a similar feeling about conferences, and it had been one of the ways I was measuring outcomes. The conference begins with a series of calls and questions, and throughout the course of the event and the conversations there are undoubtedly more that are generated. At OE 2013 we were making a concerted effort to capture that questioning throughout the weekend, and on Sunday before Tom Finkelpearl’s keynote talk were reminded by Michelle Swineheart of one of Sister Corita’s “quantity assignments” of generating 100 questions when embarking on intensive work and research. With this in mind, as well as earlier feedback from the day at a session between the Creative Time summit and OE where I heard from many participants that they wanted to work together to generate something during the conference and that in general there was a desire for sessions that allowed for formats other than being talked at, I decided that the ﬁnal event would be an opportunity for just that.
For the closing event of Open Engagement 2013 instead of having a panel discussion between only keynotes and curatorial representatives we instead set out to collect 100 questions generated by the group assembled to further get a sense of what is emerging, what people are thinking, and where this conversation is going. The Sister Corita assignment felt ﬁtting for a group of presumably invested individuals, who wish to continue to be involved in research and practice, to take this on together. It was a hope that as we would move out into the world after the conference that we could then reﬂect on this list of the questions we are currently asking ourselves about socially engaged art. The format was that each of our six panelists joined one of six seated groups that each had about 40 chairs (based on past years we were planning for between 200-300 people at the ﬁnal panel), and we then had about 35 minutes to work together and for each group to write 17 questions and then we reconvened and the panelists shared the group work. After the instructions were given, at least 20% of the assembled group left instead of joining the break out groups. As I stood at the front of the room watching people choose to stream out, I wondered if I had made a mistake. The people that remained formed groups and were led in discussions to generate questions. There was one group in particular that voiced resentment, yet not enough resentment for them to have just left. This all came out in sharing of the questions at the end of the session. After many weeks I heard from someone who was part of that dissenting group how difﬁcult it was to contribute questions, to have a discussion, and to feel like they could share. Days after the conference I heard some thoughts from Michael Rakowitz (who was the person facilitating that group) on the conference and the ﬁnal event in general and he said, “You created a space for people to get upset, and that opens up possibilities for things that haven’t been done yet.” While I had no doubt that we had created a place for people to get upset I wondered what else the space was a possibility for. I thought of other conferences and their goals, Suzanne Lacy’s City Sites: Artists and Urban Strategies (1989), and Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (1991), the Creative Time summits that began in 2009, and the more recent Homework conferences organized by Broken City Lab. Lacey was trying to create a space to develop language for socially engaged art that went beyond the limitations of forms like performance and conceptual art, and with the latter intended that the activities of Mapping the Terrain would come together as a publication. The most simple way to describe the Creative Time efforts is an attempt to become the TED talks for socially engaged contemporary art. The latest incarnation of the Homework conference takes a similar approach to Mapping the Terrain with a end goal of a collectively generated publication, and a similar format to Open Engagement with three keynote presenters and framing devices.
My last memory of Open Engagement took place at Boxxes, the club that hosted the wrap party for the conference. I showed up after a late dinner and took a seat behind the DJ booth where Paul Ramirez Jonas was virtually spinning tunes for the party. I was approached by a woman I met earlier in the day who is a funder at an arts organization dedicated to supporting socially engaged art. I found myself captive behind the DJ booth during a moment of celebration hearing out her frustrations with the conference. The parts of her dialogue that rang out the loudest in my mind were, “I am not here to learn with you, I am not here to generate your content.” I nodded throughout, and thanked her for so openly sharing her criticisms. I meant it. I still do.
This encounter made me think of who was present Open Engagement, and what they expected, and how at least for this person how much of a radical departure it was from what I thought people were there for. I revisited some writing from 2007 that I had done after the conference:
What does it mean to be open? What does it mean to be engaged? What if one were to be both open and engaged simultaneously? Openness is honesty, generosity, a sense of possibility, freedom, free of boundaries and restrictions. To be engaged is a promise. It is a commitment, an obligation. It is also a sense of involvement and participation. To have an “open engagement” implies a commitment that is potentially limited or short lived. But what if the two terms once united could keep their respective deﬁnitions making openly engaged a term that would embody an obligation to honesty, sharing and possibility?
It happened, we did create a place of possibility, a place for honesty and sharing, one where many boundaries and expectations were crossed and left behind. What should Open Engagement be? Who should it be for? How can we adequately capture what is generated? Over the last few days I have been thinking about the possibility of an online community archive for Open Engagement that would be a collective effort that would be open for all to share their documentation, writing, thinking, and stories related to the conference.
I had always seen Open Engagement as a site of learning. In an online video conference with Ren Morrison from the Atlantic Center for the Arts weeks following the conference he off handedly referred to Open Engagement as being his “education”. The conference has for the past four years been a site of convening for many of the MFA programs with a focus on publicly/socially engaged art. The fact that this conference is so embedded in the structure of an MFA program makes the very nature of it educational, as well as the fact that even the very beginning was in an educational framework. In my mind we were all working together, learning together, and teaching one another. How we organize this conference collaboratively echoes the spirit of our program and our approach to learning. An education in our program is emergent, unorthodox, and at times unruly. This translates into Open Engagement feeling slightly unkempt, and in ﬂux. And while this might be a point of criticism for some, I would not trade this instability for rigid professionalism or a set structure. It is important that we remain open to this conference and this conversation shifting and developing in unexpected ways. It is also important that we remain open to the realization that this may no longer be a site that is necessary, or that it might need to take a completely new form and possibly a new grounding. I hope that whatever becomes of it, that Open Engagement can be a site to work together, learn together and see what we are contributing to the ﬁeld of socially engaged art from multiple perspectives. I am open to whatever comes next.
Jen Delos Reyes is an artist originally from Winnipeg, MB, Canada. Her research interests include the history of socially engaged art, group work, band dynamics, folk music, and artists’ social roles. She has exhibited works across North America and Europe, and has contributed writing to various catalogues and institutional publications. She has received numerous grants and awards including a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Grant. Jen is the founder and director of Open Engagement, a conference on socially engaged art practice and herself speaks widely on Art and Social Practice at conferences and institutions around the world. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Portland State University where she teaches in the Art and Social Practice MFA program.
Guest Post by Carolyn Okomo
Though Kansas City’s Middle of the Map Fest ended this past May, the curators of the month-long salute to Midwest’s arts scene are getting ready to make preparations for next year’s activities. The festival, which just concluded its third year, is not-so-slowly but surely becoming an important cultural staple in the Kansas City-metropolitan area, the Midwestern United States, and arguably the nation. Its fusion of music, film and technology dialogs could make it Kansas City’s answer to the SXSW Interactive Festival, though Nathan Reusch — one of the festival’s founders — is caution in drawing too direct a comparison to the Austin event.
“I would say that we take plenty of notes from SXSW but I think we have tried to make it our own” says Reusch. “Things like spreading across multiple weekends have given each event a chance to have their own identity where SXSW has so much going on all at once.”
Reusch, along with Mike Russo and Richard Robinett, run The Record Machine — a Kansas City-based independent music label that’s been releasing music for local and national acts since 2003. Since then they’ve assembled a heartily diverse ensemble of artists. At the heart of The Record Machine’s mission is a desire to “make an organic community of artists and help connect them with listeners” according to the the label’s website. The rapid growth of the Map Fest — co-curated along with local lifestyle and entertainment weekly Ink Magazine — certainly serves as a testament to the label’s successes in realizing this objective. This year’s three-day music fest was headlined by Brooklyn-based outfit Grizzly Bear and featured 140 local, regional and national bands; its first year just 50 bands were showcased, according to Reusch. In 2012 the Map Fest also added a 50-speaker Forum component to provide a platform for local creatives, entrepreneurs and community leaders to discuss topics like social connectivity, curating responsibility and sustainable wellness.
For the first time since premiering in 2011, the Map Fest incorporated a five-day film event that featured over 25 films. The event kicked off on May 1 in Kansas City’s Alamo Drafthouse with a screening of 1986 cult fantasy film Labyrinth (and opened with a David Bowie set by local band Soft Reeds). The film fest’s curator, Kansas City-bread filmmaker Mark Harrison, says he began the process of identifying films for the event at the beginning of the year after being commissioned by The Record Machine to help out. The process included building a dream list of films the planners hoped to screen during the festival then individually pitching either the filmmakers and movie distribution companies.
“At the end of the day, I wanted to bring to films to Kansas City that I thought I could stand behind, that I personally wouldn’t think twice about paying $25 to go see, and that I felt offered unique voices to the festival that could be discussed by any and all who attended” says Harrison.
Harrison’s own whimsically shot, self-described “factumentary”, Vanuary, chronicled the month-long adventure of its star, Dave Drusky, as he completed challenges whilst living in a 1982 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia camper van during the month of January. Both Harrison and Druksy fielded questions about their experimental film post-screening to get a sense of whether it could work as a feature length film and were met with positive responses from the crowd.
“This was the first time people were watching it that didn’t know me or didn’t know Mark” says Drusky. And, it’s one thing to say ‘hey, friends and family, sit down and watch this hour and a half movie of me and Mark just having fun and doing all these activities in the van. But to have people not connected to us watch it and saying ‘we want more’ was kind of an inspirational moment.”
The film’s curatorial slant was unmistakably musical, Harrison admits (his band, Capybara, is a featured act on The Record Machine’s label). Andrew Bird: Fever Year (2011, directed by Xan Aranda) — a film about about Chicago-based singer/songwriter Andrew Bird’s return home after a year-long tour — was just one of the films showcased. Another music-doc featured was The Frames: In Deep Shade (2013, Conner Masterson), which chronicles the Irish band, The Frames, and their 20 year musical relationship; A Band Called Death (2012, Mark Christopher Covino & Jeff Howlett) shed an incredibly gripping light into the lives of the newly-discovered first all-black punk rock band out of Detroit.
Other documentaries that screened included Eating Alabama (2012, Andrew Grace), which recounts young couple’s attempt to eat only locally-grown food; Mincraft: Story of Mojang (2012, Paul Owens) looks into the company behind the hugely popular virtual game. We Are Superman (2012, Kevin Bryce), expounded on the struggles of a group of Kansas City residents working feverishly to revitalize several blocks of a long-ignored urban neighborhood.
The film festival’s roster also included a number of independent feature films. Campy martial arts-infused action Miami Connection (Y.M Kim, Woo-Sang Park, 1987) provided comedic nostalgia for fans of over-the-top 1980s action films. War Witch, a film that took its director Kim Nguyen a decade to complete, depicts the tragic pains faced regularly by African child soldiers through the story of 12 year-old Komona, played by a non-professional actress Rachel Mwanza and filmed over the course of a decade. Romantic drama Save the Date (2012, Michael Mohan) — a film loosely-based on the comics of graphic novelist and co-writer Jeffrey Brown (read interview)– also screened.
Reusch says he, Robinett and Russo are slowly easing into the planning process for next year, which patrons of the festival should undoubtedly appreciate given its steady successes throughout the years.
“We have always tried to keep evolving the event organically and not trying to push things out that don’t seem to work” says Reusch. “We are still taking a little bit of a break and clear our heads start planning for next year.”
The Map Fest was a much-appreciated introduction to region’s cultural landscape for this author (an admitted newbie to the area). For years, The Record Machine and others (Golden Sound Records, the Kansas City Film Fest and the Midwest Music Foundation, to name some) have buttressed Kansas City’s profile as a cultural hub amongst larger metropolitan regions like Chicago, Austin, and the obvious New York and Los Angeles. While one may not typically think to stay (or move ) to a place like Kansas City to make it big, the Map Fest could very well a spring board for many successful careers as it continues to expand and evolve in years to come.
“The Cardinal” by designer Jeff Laramore behind the Wishard Slow Food Garden near Washington & West St.
Greetings from Indianapolis, friends!
I spent the majority of June rolling up the west coast, visiting other lovely cities, giving out poetry broadsides, and spreading Indpls lore and legend.
Here are a couple of things that I was really looking forward to that I missed in June:
Image via Nuvo.net
Independent Music and Arts Festival (IMAF)/ INDIEana Handicraft Exchange at the Harrison Center for the Arts: a yearly exchange of hand-made goods, visual art, and lots of music.
However, there were still plenty of artistic experiences to be had in the last two weeks of June.
When I arrived back to work at the Indianapolis Art Center I was greeted by a new exhibition called Under Construction that gets more fascinating every time I see it (which is every day). Giant wall “tapestries” made entirely out of duct tape by Garry Noland, paper cuttings of microscopic views of tree bark by Katie Vota, and objects handcrafted entirely out of pennies by Indianapolis-native Stacey Lee Webber.
The very next week at work I had an awesome experience of facilitating an Andy Goldsworthy inspired land art workshop with a group of about 80 urban teens. They made some seriously incredible stuff in just an hour and a half:
The following Saturday I joined a different group of teens on a public art bike tour in the city’s center.
This got me thinking that I should share a few of my favorite pieces of public art here in Indy!
This project is part of the legacy project that came out of Indianapolis hosting the Super Bowl in 2012. In just a few months, 46 new murals went up all over the city. Here are some of my favorites:
Image via Arts Council of Indianapolis
Indy’s Always on A Roll by Michael Cooper at the intersection of Virgina, Maryland and Delaware.
Image via Arts Council of Indianapolis
Trivergence by Carl Leck at the 10th st/Mass Ave gateway.
My absolute favorite mural in all of Indianapolis is a bit older though:
Color Fuses by Milton Glaser (1975) on the brutalist-inspired Minton-Capehart Federal Building. (corner of Penn and Michigan)
The mural is a giant rainbow that completely wraps the first story. The mural was recently restored to its former glory, and Glaser’s vision completed with the addition of a fully functional system of lights for enhanced viewing after dark.
I stopped by my friend Megan Hart’s show with Beth Eisinger, Archaeornithology – an Excavation of Urban Artifacts.
All of the objects and imagery included in the show were found in the neighborhood I live in on the near southeast side of Indianapolis – Fountain Square.
The show included Beth’s incredible (and affordable) handmade bird’s nests:
Including an enormous human-sized one:
Megan is fascinated with the act of collecting and categorizing urban artifacts (trash) to learn about the secret lives of her neighbors:
This show, coupled with homesickness from being out of town, has got me thinking a lot about art in Indianapolis, and how a lot of it celebrates our city, our neighborhoods, our streets, our friends.
And then, perfectly, this video about my favorite, wacky, DIY theater group, Know No Stranger was released! Video via our central Indiana contemporary art blog Sky Blue Window
Until next month!
Wendy Lee Spacek is a poet who lives and works in Indianapolis, Indiana. She likes her city very much. She is a core volunteer of the Indianapolis Publishing Cooperative (Indy Pub Co-Op), publishes small editions of handmade books under the name Soft River and is an arts administrator at the Indianapolis Art Center. She will be posting monthly all summer long about her encounters with art, culture, creative experiences and resources in her city.
In reality, the Young-Girl is only the model citizen such as commodity society has defined it since WWI, as an explicit response to the revolutionary threats against it — Tiqqun,Preliminary Materials for a Theory of The Young-Girl
A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself — John Berger, Ways of Seeing
The challenges of earning a living as a working artist are well-known, and artists find various ways to support themselves. Some work in entirely unrelated fields, or in peripherally related fields, photographing weddings or painting faux finishes on wealthy homes. Others try seeking employment at a museum or gallery. Paid curatorial or critical positions are difficult to come by, and artists seeking these positions find themselves competing against dedicated curators and writers. To find a stable, financially-sustainable career, in a field related to our training in art, many artists therefore turn to teaching.
Teaching isn’t right for everyone, as many recent MFA graduates in need of employment quickly learn. For some, teaching itself simply isn’t a good fit. For many more, however, the discouragement originates outside the classroom. Entry-level teaching positions typically involve a combination of part time positions including non-academic teaching at community art centers such as LillStreet, Hyde Park, Highland Park, and Evanston Art Centers, and adjunct teaching at a variety of colleges and universities.
Adjuncts have been performing more and more of the college-level teaching in recent years, and while this does mean there are a lot of opportunities for part-time teaching for recent MFA graduates, it also means that more and more instructors find themselves commuting from one institution to another, trying to piece together a living like a hippie kid sewing a pair of patchwork pants. For some, the challenges of adjunct teaching are too much to bear, and sometimes even those with a real inclination towards teaching find themselves seeking other employment. For others, though, adjunct teaching is simply a first step towards a full-time teaching position.
Every search committee has something it’s looking for. The secret to getting hired is to be that. The problem is that, probably due to the rigidly formal process that searches have become, search committees rarely publish or advertise these desires. They list required qualifications and desirable qualifications, but will only rarely state a preference in terms of, for example, whether a painting candidate should work abstractly or figuratively, even when this is in fact the primary criterion on which they will select candidates for the first round of interviews. Looking at the work of my various friends and colleagues who have full-time teaching positions, it is clear that each institution, conducting each search, has looked for something different, and that no one style or technique or type of subject matter is a guarantee of employment. The best you can do, if you want to get hired, is to be really, really good at whatever it is that you do.
Of course, even that isn’t a guarantee; some institutions prioritize teaching experience, an exhibition record, or other criteria, more than an aesthetic evaluation of the candidate’s work. In general, it has seemed to me that community colleges tend to look primarily at a candidate’s teaching experience first and foremost, almost to the exclusion of other criteria. By contrast, art schools such as SAIC tend to hire their full-time faculty almost exclusively on the basis of their exhibition records and other professional accomplishments, with the presumption apparently being that students at an art school will benefit the most from working with a successful artist, rather than an experienced teacher, and it seems that this success is more important than the particulars of an artist’s methods. Four-year colleges and universities seem to take a more balanced approach, taking both teaching experience and exhibition history into consideration, but more than other institutions tend to look at the applicant’s own studio work as a criterion for selection. I’m sure there are a plethora of exceptions to this, but this is the general impression I have gotten from my observations of searches and their conclusions.
One could draw a variety of conclusions from these observations: “Don’t bother applying at an art school if you haven’t had a museum show,” for example, or “Rack up a few years as an adjunct before applying at a community college.” The exceptions to my general observations are numerous enough, however, that this approach could cause one to miss an opportunity to apply for a position for which one might be hired. It could also cause one to neglect an important aspect of one’s own development. After submitting numerous applications for full-time teaching positions while in the second year of my MFA, and receiving nothing for it but a quiver full of rejection letters, I moved to Chicago, and worked for a year in a hardware store while pursuing both local and national teaching positions. By fall of 2008 I had secured part-time teaching positions at two community art centers, as well as an adjunct position at Wilbur Wright Community College, where I taught for the next five years. In September 2010 I also began teaching at Malcolm X Community College.
After I began teaching as an adjunct, I stopped applying for full-time teaching positions, focusing instead on other aspects of my professional development. I worked on developing and improving my syllabi and assignments, seeing what worked and what didn’t work in the classroom. I also stayed active in the studio, completing paintings and pursuing exhibition opportunities, as well as writing, curating exhibitions, and viewing as many exhibitions as I possibly could. All of these activities were of course ends unto themselves, but also served to add to my resume with the goal of resuming my full-time job search after I had gained some adjunct experience. After a date had been set for my exhibition Living Dead Girls at Linda Warren Projects, I decided that it was time to resume my job search.
Beginning in 2011, I began applying for every position for which I was even nominally qualified, including both positions that did not appear particularly desirable to me (but which I was willing to accept if that’s where I was wanted), as well as positions which appeared either improbably desirable or clearly beyond my experience level (director of MFA programs and similar advanced positions). The positions for which I was applying were located not just in the Chicago area but all across the country and in some cases internationally. I was willing to relocate anywhere, and accept any position, in order to secure a full-time teaching job.
Over the past three years, I have applied for 122 positions: I keep a list. I would search the listings on the College Art Association, Higher Ed Jobs, and the Chronicle of Higher Education websites, as well as Academic Keys and Chicago Artist’s Resource. This works out to just under one job application per week. It was a serious time commitment, quite stressful…and also depressing.
I keep a binder full of rejection letters (120 rejection letters from teaching jobs, 66 of them emails, dating back to 2007). I keep mine in a three-ring binder in page protectors, in chronological order, a habit I started when I first applied to graduate school in 2002. I kept all of my MFA program rejection letters, and there were quite a few; it took me three years to get in, and in the second of those years I applied to 19 programs. A lot of my friends and peers thought this cataloging was obsessive, even pathological, but I found it perversely helpful. If nothing else, it was proof that I was trying. A fellow job searcher I met at CAA this past year in New York had an alternative solution; she gave her rejection letters to her pet parrot, who enjoys tearing them into confetti.
Not every position sent me a rejection letter: 13 positions starting in Fall 2012, for example, never got back to me, leaving me to infer my rejection from their silence. A few of these 122 positions, however, did select me for an interview: 5 positions, to be precise, or 4% of those positions for which I applied. The first was Central Illinois College, in Peoria, IL. We did a telephone interview in summer of 2011, which apparently didn’t go very well, as there was no follow up. The next institution to contact me was in Fall 2012, when Windward Community College (in Hawaii) contacted me for a position starting in Spring 2013. This search was conducted entirely by telephone. The initial interview included a teaching demonstration, which I performed over the phone, using PDFs I had emailed as visual aids. This went well, and a follow-up telephone interview was scheduled, which I also felt went well. It must have been down to me and one or two other candidates, but ultimately, I was not selected for this position either. The University of Washington in Bothell expressed interest in my application and asked for a few follow-up documents, but this didn’t lead to an interview.
Then, this past spring (2013), two more institutions contacted me for phone interviews. The first was Suffolk County Community College, in Riverhead (Long Island), New York. We did a phone interview, which went well enough that I was invited to fly out to Riverhead for an on-campus interview and teaching demonstration. I felt this went exceptionally well; however, and somewhat unusually, there was to be a third round of interviews, again by telephone, to select a final candidate. I was not one of those chosen for this final round of phone interviews.
Lastly, I was contacted by Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff AZ. I was initially offered a telephone interview, which I felt went very well. The department chair then emailed me to schedule a telephone conversation in which he informed me that I had been chosen for an on-campus interview. I was flown out, given a tour of the campus, and gave a PowerPoint presentation on how I would teach a drawing class. The overall feeling was very positive, and as anyone who follows me on Facebook knows, I was offered the job, which I accepted. My contract begins August 19th. I will be returning to Chicago regularly, particularly because my wife, Stephanie Burke, will be remaining here in her position at Harold Washington College, but also for events such as Expo Chicago in September 2013, and the College Art Association conference in February 2014. I intend to maintain my connections with the Chicago art scene including exhibitions, writing, and curating. It won’t be easy, but as an integral part of moving my career forward, it is a challenge I am eager to face.
For those of my friends and readers who are going through this job search process themselves, I hope that my experiences can be of some help. I recommend my approach of applying for every position for which one is even nominally qualified, even though it may seem like a waste of time: every time you apply for a position is an opportunity to revamp your CV, rewrite your artist’s statement and teaching philosophy, etc. In between applications, stay active in your studio, keep working as an adjunct, and pursue exhibition opportunities as well as other professional experience: while any one position may value on of these categories over the others, the next position may be the opposite, so they’re all valuable. Share job opportunities with your friends, even if they’re positions you’re also applying for: the search is looking for something, and your friend may be it, even if you’re not, but there are enough people out there looking for jobs, you’re not going to get one just because your friends didn’t apply.
Speaking of numbers, a few of my rejection letters have given the actual number of applicants, which average around 190 applicants per position. From these applicant pools, the campus selects a number of finalists, usually around 10 to 15, for initial interviews, either by phone or at CAA. Based on these interviews the institution chooses between 2 to 5 finalists for on-campus interviews, which often involve a teaching demonstration. The exact procedures vary, but in general, you might derive from this that institutions conduct initial interviews, whether by phone or at CAA, with about 1 in 20 applicants. Conversely you might expect to do one phone interview per 20 applications submitted, and it might be that you will do four to six phone interviews before becoming a finalist with an on-campus interview.
If you are offered a phone interview, you will want to plan in advance your answers to some commonly asked questions. Ask your friends who have interviewed what questions they were asked, and anticipate your answers to the same. During or immediately after each phone interview, write down the questions you were asked, so you can rehearse your answers for future interviews. Here are some questions I have been asked in phone interviews:
Why do you want to teach at (this type of institution)?
Why do you want to teach at (this specific institution)?
What interests you about this department/college/school?
What can you contribute to this program?
What’s the hardest thing about teaching?
What is your biggest fault?
How do you address techniques versus ideas?
What creates a positive learning environment?
How do you assess the success or failure of your learning outcomes?
Is art objective, subjective, or both? How would you explain this to a student?
Where do you see this department going?
How could you expand this department, improving it to increase enrollment?
How would you deal with a student who wants to pursue art outside of school?
How do you deal with meeting the differing needs of students?
What do you do at each different level (beginning, intermediate, advanced)?
What are different techniques you can use?
What special topics could you address?
Do you discuss your own artwork with students? When, how, and why?
Discuss your art practice.
How do you keep your art practice fresh?
What are you going to do if your tenure duties interrupt your studio practice?
Are there any questions you were expecting, that we didn’t ask?
Do you have any questions for us?
Occasionally, something strange happens at the end of a phone interview. During one phone interview I did, the school’s telephone system had a very poor connection, and we kept getting cut off. It was of course frustrating, but I kept my cool and stayed friendly. At the end of the call, we said our thanks and goodbyes, and I waited for them to hang up (not wanting to hang up first, in case there was an “Oh, and one last thing…” But they didn’t hang up. They started talking about me.
I didn’t listen long, because I didn’t want to be discovered and have it reflect poorly on me, but of course I was tempted. The one thing I heard before hanging up was that they liked how, when the phones cut out, I stayed positive, “unlike the last guy.” So apparently the poor phone connections were a recurring problem, and while unintentional, served as a de facto part of the “test.” Remember, a big factor in the interview process is the committee asking themselves, “Do we want to work with this person?” I recently spoke with a friend who also had the experience of a phone interview committee not knowing he was still on the line when they started discussing him; he listened through their entire discussion. The insights gained from this fly-on-the-wall opportunity might be invaluable, but I will leave it to my readers’ discretion to decide whether it is ethical and worth the risk.
A safer way to get some feedback on your interview skills and application materials is to take advantage of the mock interviews and portfolio reviews at the College Art Association Conference. The next one is in Chicago, February 12-15, 2014, at the Hilton Chicago (a change from 2010, when it was held at the Hyatt Regency). To access mentoring and mock interview services at the CAA Conference, a current CAA membership is required, but conference registration is not. So, make sure your CAA membership is up-to-date, and bring your membership card, but you don’t need to register for the conference itself to use these services (or the candidate center and interview hall). The feedback they provide is a big help in the job search process. Good luck.