Education

'Revolt against Folt!' Students march on UNC chancellor's office, demanding arts money.

Art students protested lack of funding for their department outside UNC-Chapel Hill's South Building and the office of Chancellor Carol Folt.
Art students protested lack of funding for their department outside UNC-Chapel Hill's South Building and the office of Chancellor Carol Folt. jstancill@newsobserver.com

Art students at UNC-Chapel Hill marched on the administration building Monday, saying their roof is leaking, their professors are leaving and their department is poorly funded — despite a splashy "Arts Everywhere" public art event recently on campus.

About 50 students marched to South Building for a rally and then entered a lobby outside Chancellor Carol Folt's office, where they chanted "Open the door!" and "Revolt against Folt!"

There they were met by Kevin Guskiewicz, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who said the administration hears their concerns and promised that the Hanes Art Center roof would be repaired starting next month. But he also suggested the students narrow their list of 16 demands, which strayed from art studios and faculty to a new scholarship fund and the removal of the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam.

"We're very committed to the arts at Carolina," Guskiewicz said.

Students say they were spurred by a recent university event called "Arts Everywhere," which featured public art projects around campus and gave a false impression that the university was investing in the art department.

In fact, students said, they've been rained on in class and several high-profile faculty have been recruited away, making it hard to get the courses they need for their major.

"We see it as an exact antithesis to what the chancellor's office is sending out," said Annie Simpson, a 20-year-old junior and art major from Charlotte. "It doesn't sit well with us."

Yet, Simpson said, the faculty are amazing teachers who are producing "international level" work. "They've been doing so much with so little for so long," she said.

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The Hanes Art Center's library has a leaking roof. Jane Stancill jstancill@newsobserver.com

Arts faculty who attended the rally and watched the students' speeches said they weren't asked to be involved in the "Arts Everywhere" campaign, which was more of a marketing event tied to fundraising. Last year, the university announced multimillion-dollar donations to the Ackland Art Museum and PlayMakers Repertory Company, which are separate from the academic arts department.

Hong-An Truong, an art faculty member, said the arts event created a perception that academic art programs were being generously supported at UNC despite "the dire reality we face as a discipline."

"The campaign really pointed out the hypocrisy of the university," Truong said.

Students are leading the protest because they feel their education is at risk, while science programs are well-funded, said Sabine Gruffat, a professor who teaches digital art, documentary film and photography.

"The students are depressed when they work in studios that are falling apart," Gruffat said.

The department has lost two well-regarded faculty in the past three years, including the only African-American woman in studio art — Jina Valentine, who went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago — and Jeff Whetstone, a photography professor who was recruited by Princeton University.

"We feel embarrassed by our inadequate facilities," said John DeKemper, a graduate student in the master of fine arts program. "We feel hopeless about our disappearing faculty and classes. We feel frustrated by the strange allocation of funds for arts lip service with no support for our actual department. ... Most of all, we feel angry."

Students met with administrators last week, including Guskiewicz, Provost Robert Blouin and Terry Rhodes, a senior associate dean who oversees fine arts and humanities.

Rhodes wrote a letter to the Daily Tar Heel recently describing some new resources on the way to the arts departments, which include art and art history, music and dramatic art.

She said a new faculty member in photography will arrive this fall, funded in part through philanthropy, and the university has received a $500,000 gift to the art department.

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