Advancing Participation in the Survey

It comes as no surprise that as higher education emphasizes job training, students place a higher priority on classes they view as favorable to the acquisition of highly marketable skills over educationally enriching experiences. Without some demonstration of career utility, courses like art history serve as just another core requirement to be endured, rather than valued. While challenging, this situation also presents art historians with the opportunity to present the history of art as something relevant, practical, and helpful to otherwise disinterested students. To do so, we need not redevelop the standard art history survey in its entirety. Instead, looking outside the humanities can lead to approaches than present art, visual communications, and material culture in a way that resonates with an increasingly career-driven student body. By collaborating across disciplines and consulting with representatives from the private sector, we art historians can legitimize our field to outside concerns and demonstrate how an art historical education can enhance the transferable skills of career-minded students.

Whether at a teaching or research institution, academic departments often resemble silos. Developing relationships across disciplines or with private and public industry can be nearly impossible without a direct connection or the time to develop relationships. Yet, breaking out of disciplinary isolation is surprisingly easy if one only looks at two of the most basic institutional resources available at nearly every school of higher education: the professional offices of Development and Alumni Affairs, together sometimes known as Institutional Advancement.

While not true of all academics, I daresay that few professors are truly aware of the full scope of work done by offices of Institutional Advancement (IA). Sometimes viewed as a perfect example of administrative bloat, IA services fulfill vital activities of any college or university. Rather than a simple apparatus for soliciting financial contributions, IA actively combines aspects of institutional integrity, academic affairs, and alumni relations.

Every college is a bit different, but the basic roles fulfilled by IA are fairly consistent and track internal and external involvement, measured by both time and treasure, at various levels. Here is a list of some standard definitions of IA commonly found in most schools of higher education:

  • Alumni Affairs – This is the area of advancement that concerns itself with maintaining relationships with alumni of the college. Alumni Affairs will often keep detailed records on the specific interests of alumni and their level of continued participation, financial and otherwise, at their alma mater.
  • Development – This is the general term used to define fundraising. Smaller colleges may only have one development representative responsible for most fundraising. Larger universities often have enormous fundraising operations that include these specific levels of activity:
    • Annual Fund – The Annual Fund at most schools is responsible for the collective amount of modest donations given to schools, most especially the funds raised through phone-a-thon donations. Usually the funds raised by the Annual Fund are non-restricted, meaning that they can be applied to any area of an institution without the specific consent of the donor.
    • Planned Giving – This area of fundraising is focused on estate gifts. These are usually set in place by the donors and activated after their deaths. Planned gifts can take many forms, including money, stock, goods, and land. Frequently, planned gifts are directed towards an area of the institution specified by the donor.
    • Corporate Relations – Major corporations often link themselves to colleges and universities for reasons of public relations, recruitment, research goals, and shared proximity. Corporate Relations is an area of giving dedicated to bringing corporate donations to appropriate areas of an institution.
    • Foundation Relations – This area of fundraising develops relationships with non-profit foundations and public or private endowments. Frequently, this is an area of development in which fundraising professionals work alongside academics to apply for grants supporting faculty research and student success.
    • Major Gifts – This category works with individual donors who wish to give significant sums of money, land, or stock for the immediate benefit of an institution. Often these donors have pointed interests in the success of a particular area of an institution. Fundraising professionals work closely with such donors to foster connections with appropriate areas of their school.

Yes, the primary responsibility of IA is to raise funds that help to support the university. Yet fundraisers accomplish this by developing relationships with alumni and interested community members, local and otherwise, to help to connect them with shared institutional goals. To a degree, fundraising is akin to the artist-patron model, wherein the artists and patrons reconcile their interests while working within certain parameters to create a work of art that fulfills a perceived need. In short, development officers match a donor’s interest to a part of the school that works in an area adjacent to that interest. Yet the most successful IA departments (as well as the most thriving schools of higher education) are careful to stay within their stated missions and therefore seek partners appropriate for those aspirations. Above all else, offices of IA work to forge connections between alumni and donors with long-term fixtures of their institutions, including departments, buildings, meaningful events, and faculty members.

In fact, advancement professionals often rely on faculty members to further their own assigned fundraising goals. The more interaction representatives of IA have with faculty, the more accurately those advancement professionals can communicate the academic developments of their college to alumni and external stakeholders. Advancement professionals are also uniquely capable of putting faculty into contact with appropriate institutional partners, alumni, or external stakeholders. Whether through alumni affairs or development, most professors have the built-in institutional resources to reach out to other professors, alumni, or industry partners who express a commitment to the school, and who also have academic and professional interests that can be relevant to course and program development.

As colleges and universities continue to emphasize job preparedness, humanistic disciplines like art history risk being neglected by students and administration alike. Yet professors from the sciences and alumni with industrial experience often value the content of an art historical education. By reaching out to these unorthodox sources soliciting their support in our course preparations and deliveries, we can contextualize art history in the real world, underscore its practical benefits, and ultimately legitimize the field for skeptical students.

I do not suggest that we replace the traditional methods and pedagogy of art history. Rather, I encourage art historians to package and deliver the standard survey course in ways that specifically target the concerns of modern non-humanist students in order to instill the notion that art history is more than an elective or a break from their “real” studies. To this end, teachers of art history would do well to engage with the core resources available at most colleges and universities in order to identify collaborators that help to underscore the necessity and benefits of art history.

*This is the first post of a two-part essay on repackaging the Survey. The second part will focus on the development of a reimagined survey course titled The Art of Engineering.

One response to “Advancing Participation in the Survey”

  1. […] Without some demonstration of career utility, courses like art history serve as just another core requirement to be endured, rather than valued. While challenging, this situation also presents art historians with the opportunity to present the history of art as something relevant, practical, and helpful to otherwise disinterested students. (Read more from Art History Teaching Resources.) […]

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