VALENCIA, CALIF. (March 7, 2022)—California Institute of the Arts has named Steven Lam the next dean of its School of Art. An accomplished administrator, professor, and curator, Lam will assume the role on July 15, 2022.
He succeeds Tom Lawson, the School’s dean for 30 years, and will report to CalArts Provost Tracie Costantino. Lam also will hold the Institute’s Jill and Peter Kraus Distinguished Chair in Art.
“I am thrilled to have Steven join us at CalArts. Steven’s breadth of experience in higher education and the arts and his collaborative leadership style are among the key qualities that he brings to this important role at the Institute,” Costantino said. “His commitment to students’ development as artists and engaged contributors to our world is perfectly aligned with our mission. I look forward to partnering with Steven as he works with the faculty, staff, and students of the School of Art to envision and realize their aspirations.”
Lam comes to CalArts from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he has served as associate vice president of research and dean of the Jake Kerr Faculty of Graduate Studies. Earlier, he was director and an associate professor at the School of Art + Design at Purchase College, State University of New York, and associate dean of the School of Art at Cooper Union in New York.
“Steven’s selection was made during a very successful search process that yielded an impressive and diverse field of candidates,” said CalArts School of Art faculty member Charles Gaines, who chaired the search for the new dean. “He brings to CalArts a worldview and the professional skills necessary to build on the Institute’s legacy and take our mission to new levels of excellence.”
As a curator, Lam has produced curatorial projects and collaborations that address a range of questions, such as the legacy of AIDS activism in contemporary art; the relationship between financialization and abstraction within the rural American landscape; the politics and forms of secrecy; cultural and social research that counters extractionist modes of being; and multi-species and ecological encounters. His artistic and curatorial work has been featured in The New York Times, Brooklyn Rail, Art Forum, Flash Art, Third Text, and various other international and academic publications.
“CalArts is one of those rare institutions that continues to hold that complicated space between rigor and generosity. The School of Art’s influence on contemporary cultural production is singular, yet it is also a place where practitioners, designers, and artists realize that their work is bigger than themselves,” said Lam. “I look forward to supporting an institution that has long stood for intellectual, critical pedagogical exploration, while affirming that the role of design and art is expansive, open, and, at times, controversial and complex.”
Lam continued, "I am also humbled to honor the numerous intergenerational legacies that have made CalArts legendary, be it the influence and afterlives of Feminist Art Program, its devotion to queer practice and experimentalism, the school’s pivotal role in conceptualism and criticism, its non-hierarchal ethos and commitment to social critique, and the not-yet-seen futures that are now being crafted by its mentors and students.”
Initially trained as an artist, Lam received his MFA from the University of California, Irvine, and was a Helena Rubinstein fellow in curatorial studies at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. He undertook graduate studies at the University of Houston and earned his bachelor’s degree from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where he had a double major in art history and studio art.
The CalArts School of Art is a sanctuary for cross-disciplinary training and actively promotes both the creative environment and the intellectual context for artistic experimentation. The programs in art, photography and media, art and technology, and graphic design prepare graduates to challenge prevailing conventions, develop new forms, and become innovators and leaders in their chosen fields. Each unique program offers specific courses of study, yet none is isolated from the others. True to the Institute's founding ethos, students are highly encouraged to collaborate with one another across disciplines and to investigate hybrid art forms — not only within the School of Art but also throughout all of CalArts. This accumulation of varying expertise provides an invaluable foundation on which students can build an independent practice and expand upon the boundaries of artmaking.
California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) has set the pace for educating professional artists since 1970. Offering rigorous undergraduate and graduate degree programs through six schools—Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater—CalArts has championed creative excellence, critical reflection, and the development of new forms and expressions. As successive generations of faculty and alumni have helped shape the landscape of contemporary arts, the Institute first envisioned by Walt Disney encompasses a vibrant, eclectic community with global reach, inviting experimentation, independent inquiry, and active collaboration and exchange among artists, artistic disciplines, and cultural traditions.