I just read that the University of Southern Mississippi is recommending to cut their BFA program (along with several others).
USM has two campuses, but I will address Hattiesburg, as it is the main site.
Hattiesburg, MS isn’t exactly synonymous with fine arts. In a sea of Olive Gardens and Wal-Marts, Hattiesburg is like most small southern cities – Former pageant queens shuffle their well-groomed children to school, while the men folk discuss local politics and the weather at the closest coffee shop. It is a place where “Yes ma’am,” and “No sir,” are expected and where Christian prayers are heard over the intercom of the public schools. Then, in the midst of this bubble of southern suburbia rest the universities: USM and William Carey, respectively (true, there are several small community colleges and trade schools in the area as well, but we’re focusing on USM). Each fall, the universities bring in new residents not only to learn, but to spend money within the confines of the city. Traffic picks up. Restaurants are packed. Sporting event tickets are sold. ONe in five people begin sporting the latest “Golden EAgles” hoodie. In-coming freshman marvel at the 101yro campus’ brick buildings, and awkwardly fumble through their campus maps.
I loved my time at USM, where I earned my BS in Psychology. The campus was always littered with a new activity to see or do – completely different from the small town in which I commuted from. The classes were small. The professors actually seemed to be interested in student opinions. I made friends and… stepped on a few toes, I’m sure!
On the afternoons when my friends and I’s schedules did not coordinate, I often found myself exploring the art exhibits at the Woods Art Gallery. I found the exhibitions strangely calming. I wasn’t worried about that killer Statistics exam. No, I was busy admiring the use of line in a particular painting or sculpture. The tiny Gallery offered a break from the droning lectures of Counseling Theories or from that one professor who spent 50minutes talking in an inaudible tone while starring at the clock on the back wall. Basically, I found the Gallery rejuvenating! After spending an hour so, I was ready to learn about a whole new Psychology theory, only to be told that it isn’t used anymore.
In their report, USM makes no mention of closing the Woods Gallery, nor the Fine Arts building. The committee elected to retain the BA program, giving students the option to continue studying art. But those of us who are currently in a FA program (hand raised) or are alumni of a given BFA or MFA program understand the benefits of that “F” in between the other consonant and the vowel. That “F” is specific, encourages professionalism, involves studio practice and is more concerned with the arts then it’s generalized “F”-less cousin. The BFA is often more rigid with their coursework, where as the BA leaves room for “Can I sub ‘Cross-Culture Theories of Art’ for ‘Digital Photography 101?’ My cellphone has 6mp!” attitudes.
Oh sure, the BA programs mean that students can still paint and take pictures, but emerging fine artists will wisely stray away from the humble southern-clad University. But don’t give up yet, my budding sculptors and theatric dancers! New Orleans is beautiful in the spring and will nurturing-ly embrace your artistic talents at USM’s sad loss.