CalArts Commitment to a Fall 2021 Return to Campus

Dear CalArtians,

Earlier today, CalArts held the first meeting of the Board of Trustees during the spring semester. I wanted to inform you of several important topics and discussions from the meeting. 

We started by remembering the circumstances surrounding our Trustee Meeting last March, where we began to realize that the growing pandemic would change life as we know it on campus: in this country, and around the world. We’ve come a long way since that realization and we concluded our meeting today with great optimism. As we reflected on the work of the past year, the Trustees and I wanted to convey our deep gratitude to everyone who has helped CalArts navigate this extraordinarily difficult time through hard work and personal sacrifices that have ensured our educational mission continues. 

I recognize that some of the momentum we were experiencing prior to the pandemic such as the conclusion of our community-wide, two-year strategic visioning project, was disrupted by our need to disburse from Santa Clarita and pivot to reimagining CalArts as a remote educational institution with students and employees scattered around the world. This dramatic and rapid shift meant that some very important work was set aside, and other work, such as using technology in more innovative ways, was accelerated. As we navigate the remainder of this academic year, and move into the fall of 2021-22, I promise that we will renew our focus on taking the next steps: engaging our shared governance system in planning and undertaking the strategic work that is necessary to center our educational experience; remove barriers to access; and start fundamental work that will prepare us best to shape our future.

Planning for a Safe and Gradual Return to Campus

As Provost Tracie Costantino wrote to you yesterday, newly released public health guidance for higher education allows some limited access to campuses this semester. Classrooms and in-person instruction are not yet approved for opening, but we are hard at work on access plans to designated spaces, such as labs, studios, equipment rooms, and so forth. At the forefront of this planning is our commitment to ensuring the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff. 

I want to emphasize Tracie’s statement that we are focused on equity for all students. Therefore, all course requirements for spring semester will be able to be fulfilled remotely. We recognize that the restrictions, including travel, remain quite stringent and not all students currently reside near campus. 

A Commitment to In-person Education Next Fall

With recent developments in vaccinations and lowered transmission rates, we are on track to conduct in-person classes and residential experiences for the fall 2021 semester. Even though we have not received definitive permission or even direction regarding the fall from the County of Los Angeles, we are planning for as much on-campus learning as is safely possible, with some continued use of remote learning modes. While many classes, such as seminars, small group work, lectures, or studio-based practices will follow a hybrid or fully in-person approach, some others that aren’t predicated on in-person interaction will be fully remote. 

Deans, program directors and faculty are determining the needs relevant to each offering and program using the lens of our mission: enabling an educational experience that is grounded in openness, experimentation, critical engagement, and creative freedom.

We are listening closely to students about the access they hope to have on campus in the fall, and it is our priority to give as much access as safety guidelines allow. Regardless of the limitations of this virus, we will not be deterred in lifting up the potential and power of our community.

There are many details to work out as we learn more from public health officials and the hopefully forthcoming guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. We are working daily on this as the situation evolves, and our goal is to have more detailed information to you after spring break. 

An Extended Budget Process

Many of you know that we traditionally present our Institute's budget for the following academic year at our March board meeting. As those who have participated in shared governance know, this year we are taking additional time to best gauge our enrollment revenue and present to the Trustees a balanced budget that isn’t excessively conservative, but that will also not put the Institute at undue risk. The impacts of the pandemic—from the financial crisis to restrictions on educational institutions—took a toll on our enrollment this year, including high-levels of students who requested Leaves of Absence (LOA). By all reports, our enrollment picture is looking much stronger for next year, including good news from students returning from LOAs. We have much more work to do over the next six weeks, and I thank the deans, program directors, faculty, and admissions staff who are dedicated to bringing the most promising new artists to join those of us who are returning this fall.  

Our new timeline has us presenting the Institute's budget at our board meeting on May 4, following the generally accepted national May 1 deposit deadline. Prior to that, and through our shared governance model, our new CFO Lori Husein will meet with the Assembly Budget Committee and Assembly Executive Committee to map out a sustainable budget model that takes into consideration the multiyear impacts from COVID, and positions us for future growth.

I’m looking forward to responding to your questions and to providing more details in Town Halls for faculty and staff tomorrow, March 10, and for students on March 15. Provost Tracie Costantino, Interim Vice President of Enrollment and of Student Experience Anna Jablonksi, and Vice President for Operations and Facilities Jesse Smith also will join the conversation.

Hope for the Future

The dedication of the CalArts community inspires me and humbles me. While we may not understand exactly how COVID-19 will remain a part of our lives, I am committed to working with you to build a positive path forward to advance our mission. Now more than ever I am reminded of the final sentence of our mission: that through artistic practice, we seek to transform ourselves, each other, and the world. Thank you for everything each of you has done to ensure that this transformation continues despite this pandemic.

With gratitude,