"He's always welcoming new students and student leaders, and, of course, his bow tie is very hard to miss."
Chris Hurley '13
April 29, 2013
The 2013 Fiscal Year Brought Recognition in Many Forms that represent the culmination of decades of collaborative work to improve MICA's campus and student life. In November 2012, The Root highlighted MICA's Brown Center, now 10 years old, in a profile of patrons Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown and the example they have set as prominent black philanthropists in the arts. Flavorwire.com named MICA #2 on its list of "10 Breathtakingly Beautiful Art Campuses" around the world. Also in FY 2013, MICA announced its plans to construct a new residence hall behind the then-Commons complex and renovate the existing residence halls there. Because of the College's track record in using its physical growth to enhance the community, The Baltimore Sun highlighted the expansion and its promised role as "a connector between Bolton Hill and the Station North Arts District."
"Maryland's long-term competitiveness will be built on the kind of leadership and invention that the Graduate Studio Center project will make possible."
Former President and CEO, Goldseker Foundation
The recognition MICA received for its use of facilities and programming to elevate student life is just the latest in a string of achievements in that realm for the College, much of which can be traced directly back to the vision of President Lazarus.
A BOLD VISION FOR CAMPUS LIFE
As expansive as Lazarus' vision was for the robust art college he believed the country needed, MICA's physical framework initially made that vision far from a reality. Lazarus knew that the College wasn't just competing against other art colleges for talented students; it was competing against top-tier research institutions and taxpayer supported public universities. Underlying everything was a still-too-pervasive perception that education in the arts was not really worthwhile higher education. Lazarus knew that he had to elevate the experience of living and studying at MICA. That would require an almost inexhaustible ability to plan, strategize, and collaborate.
Lazarus' bottom line was that the most sought-after students wanted a version of the "collegiate experience," albeit one tailored to their creative needs. They wanted a robust campus life, where they would not only grow as artists, but also as people, through interaction with other students undertaking the same journey. All of that growth, however, had to occur somewhere, and MICA's Main Building, Dolphin Building, and Mount Royal Station alone were simply inadequate. Students could not have a campus life without a campus. Lazarus' vision required dramatic facility upgrades, and over his 35-year presidency, the campus has not only transformed the concept of the MICA experience, it has also had a direct impact on the city of Baltimore as well.
Lazarus started with low-hanging fruit. An abandoned warehouse for Cannon Shoes sat across the street from the Main Building. With overgrown weeds and broken windows, it was an eyesore, actually making MICA a less desirable place to frequent. As MICA was hurting for space, it made perfect sense to take over the building. Understanding the logic was the easy part, however. It would take $2.5 million to see the project through.
Audacious projects need audacious leadership, and the then-chairman of Black and Decker, Al Decker, was about as bold as they come. One of Lazarus' first major collaborations was with Decker, who agreed to chair the fundraising campaign. Less than two years after arriving at MICA, Lazarus participated in his first ribbon cutting. In 1980, the Cannon Shoe warehouse became the Fox Building in honor of Decker's grandfather, alumnus Charles James Fox (1884), and immediately doubled the College's academic space. The Fox Building Project heralded a slew of facility development that Lazarus oversaw in years to come.
Lazarus took intermediate steps in developing a campus life by temporarily converting office space on North Avenue into cafeteria, gathering, and exhibition space. But the College Center, as it was called when opened in 1985, did not meet the student life needs of the college he envisioned. Like other colleges prospective students may have been considering, MICA needed legitimate living space in the form of residence halls. As would become his mantra, he wanted to make sure any development would be a complement to the historic Bolton Hill neighborhood. He seized the opportunity to turn a vacant lot, another eyesore, into The Commons residence hall, with the capacity to house 350 students. And also like other projects to come, The Commons was specifically designed around the needs of art students, with features like walls in student apartments where painting and creative expression are encouraged, instead of deterred.
As more students saw MICA as an intriguing college option and enrolled, success in one area demanded growth in another. More students, now with higher expectations, meant the need for more academic space. As if destined by fate, the Maryland AAA headquarters next to the Fox Building became available in 1995. After a $5 million renovation, the building was converted into the Bunting Center, named for then Noxell Chairman and CEO George Bunting who, during his years of service to MICA, chaired the search committee that selected Lazarus as president. The building increased academic space by 20 percent, and made curricular program expansion possible, particularly in design and illustration. Moreover, it provided space for a new desperately needed library, which grew to contain tens of thousands of periodicals, monographs, slides, DVDs, digital images, and online access to more than one million images, journals, and other materials. The library was named for the Decker family in honor of their support.
"I know that MICA will continue to attract the most creative students to Maryland to learn and eventually become members of the innovative workforce that makes Maryland unique."
The Honorable Martin O'Malley
Governor of Maryland
The ability for students to live among their peers and learn in informal and intimate ways from people of different racial, cultural, geographic, educational, artistic, and socio-economic backgrounds helped make MICA more attractive, and the MICA student life experience began to set the College apart from other art schools. As the student body began to mushroom, thanks to the plan implemented by the Lazarus-led team, even more living space became necessary. In true Lazarus form, he was able to meet the College's growth needs and simultaneously enhance the surrounding neighborhood. The century-plus-old second women's hospital in the nation, a towering figure in the nearby Bolton Hill neighborhood, had fallen into disuse and threatened to be a permanent blight. Instead, MICA turned it into an invigorating asset both to the community and the College, transforming it into Meyerhoff House residence hall. With a spacious cafeteria, more than 200 bedrooms and space for meeting, interacting, and congregating, the addition of the new residence hall, named for longtime MICA supporters and benefactors Robert and Jane Meyerhoff, represented a major step towards fulfilling Lazarus' vision.
In 2002, Lazarus began what would be a decade-long effort to revitalize a Jos. A. Bank factory and transform it for graduate education. However, even when the factory was repurposed as graduate studios and instructional space, still more multipurpose space was needed. Lazarus then undertook what may have been the boldest move to increase MICA's infrastructure since its relocation to North Avenue at the turn of the 20th century. Instead of converting an existing structure for MICA's purposes, Lazarus decided to pursue the construction of the College's first academic building in almost 100 years. Even more bold was the decision to embrace a design that did not mirror the more traditional architecture around it. Standing across the street from the Main Building, the translucent structure, with its pronounced angles, helped visually demonstrate the timeline between MICA's historic accomplishments and its positioning as the art college of the future. That building, the Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown Center, opened in 2003 with unique facilities suitable to support the College's evolving graphic design and time-based art programming, as well as Falvey Hall, MICA's first major auditorium. The Brown Center became a Baltimore landmark; "the finest modern building erected in Baltimore or Washington since...1978," according to Architectural Record.
The next few years saw a focus on landscaping, including the dedication of Cohen Plaza between the Fox Building, Bunting Center, and Brown Center (described as MICA's front lawn), Sally's Garden on North Avenue, and Frost Plaza in front of Mount Royal Station. Mount Royal Station underwent a major renovation. But the completion of The Gateway, as with the Brown Center, pushed MICA farther into elite architectural company.
Lazarus leveraged the demand for living space to again address the needs of both the campus and the city: creating a new landmark, helping to revitalize the community, and advancing the interests of MICA at the same time. The intersection of Mt. Royal Avenue, where most of the campus was located, and North Avenue, the pathway to the then all-but-deserted Station North area, was home to a dilapidated automotive station. In its place rose The Gateway, a new residence hall linking the campus with North Avenue, and marking the entry point to another dream Lazarus was feverously working to make real-a revitalized and re-energized Station North Arts and Entertainment District.
The Gateway, with its cylindrical shape, open-air courtyard, studio tower, galleries, and black box theater, is no ordinary residence hall. The Maryland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects gave the building its Honor Award; it was reviewed in Architect magazine, Architecture Week, and The Chronicle of Higher Education; and it is now one of only seven unique living spaces to be featured in a multi-year exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, making it officially one of the most distinctive structures in the United States.
"Under Lazarus' leadership, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) has become an internationally recognized creative design center."
Jayne Matthews Hopson
The Baltimore Times
The Gateway also helped the College address another critical aspect of campus life—a career development center. The Joseph Meyerhoff Career Development Center, located in The Gateway, for the first time centralized many professional and employment-related resources in an environment where a dedicated staff could work with students to help them get internships, land their first jobs, or launch businesses. The Center also helps students achieve other professional goals, including applying for grants and fellowships.
Though the Gateway project was successful, the College continued to renovate and adapt historic buildings for MICA's needs. The challenges faced by the residents of East Baltimore are commensurate with the programming in MICA's community engagement-based graduate programs. But in order to maximize their impact, the students needed to be closer to the communities they worked with. MICA opened MICA PLACE (Programs Linking Art, Culture, and Education) in the old St. Wenceslaus school in a transforming area of East Baltimore, and headquartered the MFA in Community Arts program there, which has already begun making a difference in the lives of area residents through cultural engagement.
Lazarus returned his attention to the Graduate Studio Center project, which, from its position of prominence in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, had the potential to become a defining element in the revitalization of the area. After the marshaling of $20 million and a massive renovation, the center reopened with dozens of graduate and undergraduate studios, a street level gallery, dining space, a 200-seat auditorium, space for the LeRoy E. Hoffberger School of Painting, the Mt. Royal School of Art, the Curatorial Practice program, and the MFA in Photographic and Electronic Media program, as well as graduate studies offices. A hub for graduate study, the students, faculty, visiting artists, and cultural enthusiasts who flow in and out of the building have added a new energy to the district.
Even as he announced his retirement in 2013, Lazarus was still busy at work adding the next piece to the campus puzzle. The now aging Commons needed an upgrade, and the surging ranks of transfer and international students demanded on-campus housing. Lazarus and his team responded by renovating The Commons, adding a new welcome center, lounge and meeting space, laundry and mail facilities, and a grill-style dining facility. Most dramatically, the College constructed Leake Hall, named for former president Eugene "Bud" Leake, a state-of-the-art residence hall that features student apartments, a 200-seat auditorium, multi-use theater, and gallery space. The complex was named to reflect legendary figures in MICA's history, like Leake.
The welcome center was named after MICA's founder, John H. B. Latrobe, and the remaining residence halls were named after Margaret Glace, who became the first woman dean at an art college when named MICA's academic dean in 1948; John Carter, who helped enable the construction of the Main Building; and Julia Spear, who expanded programming for women and brought the fine arts to MICA. The entire complex was named Founders Green.
"Under Fred Lazarus, MICA has set and maintained an extraordinarily high standard for post-secondary art and design education nationally and internationally. Its forward-edge programs and exceptional faculty and students have made it a clear thought leader and that, in turn, has raised the quality of education at many other institutions."
President of Pacific Northwest College of Art and Design and Vice Chair of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design