"Fred Lazarus has been such a visionary leader for MICA; he is the one who has brought it from a good art design school to one that is really top-notch and top-tier."
President of Ringling College of Art and Design
Baltmore Sun, April 29, 2013
During the 2013 Fiscal Year, Mica's Academic Reputation Continued to Grow. Animation Career Review ranked the College's animation program #4 in the Northeast. "Industry veterans from LAIKA, Pixar and more fill the guest halls," the magazine reported, while citing instructional influence from a "tight- knit faculty roster," a small faculty-student ratio, and MICA's location in the middle of the Northeastern arts corridor. The Chronicle of Higher Education once again named MICA a top producer of Fulbright Fellows among specialty schools, and GDUSA named MICA one of the top US Design Schools. MICA's innovative graduate programs continued to gain visibility, as both Advertising Age and Reuters News Service profiled the MBA/MA in Design Leadership joint program with the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School. Reporters and photographers from Advertising Age spent a day shadowing students in the program, highlighting the "positive friction between the designers and the MBA-only students."
"There's a reason why MICA was recently placed in the top two of design art schools by Princeton Review. Rigorous foundational coursework sets students on their path, gradually building up to their desired areas of expertise."
Animation Career Review
BUILDING AN ELITE ACADEMIC REPUTATION
MICA's recognition in academic programming during FY2013 is simply the fruit of decades of labor, brainstorming, idea nurturing, and collaboration led by President Lazarus. Before coming to MICA, he had never been a teacher on any level before, let alone been a leader of an academic institution; but he instinctively knew that none of the other improvements he could make at the College would be worth the effort if MICA's academic reputation did not continue to grow. Under his leadership, MICA has become a powerful academic institution, in part due to his foresight and courage to launch programs that go beyond artmaking to make artists and designers leaders in a variety of fields.
When Lazarus became president, the academic ambition of the faculty could have been in many ways symbolized by their top priorities—chalk and slide projectors. MICA's official history book, Making History/Making Art/MICA acknowledges that the College was "not widely recognized as a leading art college at that point." And Lazarus found it difficult to raise the academic reputation of the school, even when he personally reached out to high school counselors and art teachers.
In typical Lazarus style, he attacked many different areas at once. On the recruiting front, he made a habit of visiting schools himself, often under the premise of simply wanting to look at students' art, and then promoting the positives of a MICA education. The College flew in art teachers for a more in-depth look at its offerings. Eventually, MICA took its boldest step up to that point. Realizing that the reputation of a school is often built on the credentials and talent of its student body, the College actually raised admissions standards to add criteria related to high SAT scores and grade point averages. It was a Lazarus-type risk: potentially lower enrollment numbers in the short term in exchange for a better reputation in the long term.
Lazarus also turned his attention to the quality of programming, especially in areas outside fine arts. In particular, he was immediately concerned about art education and the liberal arts. He was able to lure alumnus Al Hurwitz '41, already a world-renowned expert in art education, back to Baltimore to revitalize the art education curriculum. Also an author, Hurwitz had written two books on the subject, lectured internationally, and served as president of the International Society for Education through Art. With Lazarus' backing, Hurwitz transformed MICA's reputation in the field, convening conferences, publishing, and winning countless awards, including the National Art Education Association's highest award.
As presaged by Hurwitz's arrival, one of Lazarus' strengths has been recruiting and empowering talented faculty to both deliver the highest quality instruction for students and elevate the academic reputation of the institution. At the front of the line is Ray Allen, a former MICA faculty member and then chief academic officer at Maine College of Art, who shared the president's view that MICA could become a top-tier college in both fine arts and design.
Together, Allen and Lazarus infused the faculty with extraordinary visionaries who helped transform the way the academic community views art education. For example, the appointment of Ellen Lupton—an award-winning, iconic designer in her own right—hypercharged the design culture at the school. As a result of Lazarus' commitment to provide students access to a wide array of talented instructors, the number of faculty has increased more than threefold during the Lazarus era, from 96 instructors to more than 400.
Often, Lazarus and his academic team realized that they couldn't rely on traditional academic programs to provide the instruction MICA students needed and prospective students demanded. They responded by creating programs, especially at the graduate level, that have been the first of their kind. As far back as 1987, they created the College's version of the Master of Arts in Teaching program, which was the first in the country to combine humanities, studio courses, and graduate- level preparation for teaching art in kindergarten through 12th grade. Over his tenure, Lazarus and team repeated that process often-embracing gaps in arts education by inventing new ways to deliver instruction in a more effective manner.
Other niche and first-in-the-nation programs followed. In 2005, Lazarus supported Ken Krafchek '95 in creating the Master of Arts in Community Arts program, the first program to integrate artmaking, academic theory, and experiential learning by placing graduate students as artists-in-residence at Baltimore nonprofit organizations, often working with children to enhance communities. In 2011, the president worked with the School of Professional and Continuing Studies to create the first online degree in business specifically designed for creative professionals, the Master of Professional Studies degree in the Business of Art and Design. That same year, MICA Curator-in-Residence George Ciscle and Lazarus partnered to develop the MFA in Curatorial Practice program, the first such MFA in the US, to raise the bar in helping students obtain a 360-degree understanding of the exhibition development process. In 2012, the College reached out to Johns Hopkins University to launch the MBA/MA in Design Leadership program, in which students learn to apply design principles to solve complex business challenges by earning both an MBA and a master's degree in design at the same time. The program represents the first degree collaboration between an arts college and a major research institution.
The academic vision supported by Lazarus didn't stop with new graduate programs. As the College became a truly respected academic institution, it needed to also demonstrate its research capacity. To lead the effort, MICA created the highest-level post for research at an art college, with the rank of vice-provost. However, as is true of everything else in the Lazarus era, the College did not see the need to box itself into the traditional view of research. Instead, it looked to integrate the concept of "making" as an outcome of the discovery process—often through exhibitions, design schemes, or books, and often in collaboration with major entities including governments and nonprofits. Three centers were created to carry out MICA's research imperative. The Center for Design Thinking, launched in 2006 and led by Lupton, is focused on engaging faculty and students to identify design standards and methods and publish them as books, including 2011's Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming and 2006's DIY: Design It Yourself, which sold tens of thousands of copies and has been published in German, Korean, and Chinese international editions.
"I have been struck by Fred's aspirations for the future and his encouragement to consider how trends and technologies could lead to new programming, like our new online degrees and MBA/MA partnership with Johns Hopkins University. MICA has been transformed and, in turn, has helped change the way schools of art and design are defined. What impresses me most about Fred is, even after decades at the helm, he still looks for creative ways to steer MICA into new areas of growth."
Dean, School for Professional and Continuing Studies
The Mike Weikert ‘06-led Center for Design Practice, established in 2007, partners with organizations like the City of Baltimore, Baltimore City Public Schools, Arts Every Day, Maryland Energy Administration, University of Maryland, and Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health to research societal challenges and then apply the research to design-based solutions. The Center for Race and Culture (CRC), headed by Dr. Leslie King-Hammond, explores how race impacts and is impacted by culture. The CRC has led major conferences, including 2009's Transformations, which examined the role of black artists, and has curated major exhibitions, including the Global Africa Project, which encompassed three floors at New York's Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) and showed how art by people with an African heritage has been affected by the African diaspora and resulting global influences.
"A telling moment early in Fred's career was his invitation to Dr. Lowery Sims and I to curate Art As a Verb: The Evolving Continuum an exhibition that explored the concept of African-American aesthetics at the dawn of the 21st century," recalled Dr. King-Hammond. Fred's visionary request opened the window of opportunity for many unknown artists to become part of the mainstream through the showcase at MICA. The programming created residencies and dynamic community outreach. The exhibition has now become a milestone in the history of art and Fred's visionary leadership in arts education."
MICA's graduate programming has exploded under Lazarus and Allen, with notable collaboration with former graduate studies deans Leslie King-Hammond and Gunalan Nadajaran. When Lazarus arrived in 1978, MICA had four graduate programs, all MFA programs exploring traditional arts fields (painting, photography, and sculpture), except for the Mt. Royal School of Art, where multiple disciplines were embraced. Today, there are 17 graduate programs, including master of arts programs, the joint MBA program, and two primarily online MPS programs. In addition to the first-of-their-kind programs, fields of graduate study have grown to include art education, critical studies, social design, illustration practice, teaching, graphic design, electronic media, and information visualization. Likewise, undergraduate curricular offerings have expanded significantly as well. During the Lazarus era, majors in animation, architectural design, art history, environmental design, fiber, film and video, humanistic studies, and interactive arts have been added. All of these programs are buttressed by a strong focus on liberal arts education and the humanities to ensure that well-rounded students are attracted to an academic regimen that focuses on both the "how" and the "why" of artmaking.
Lazarus realized that enhancing programming by itself would not raise MICA to the ranks of elite art colleges however. The collective talent of the student body had to be strong so students could push each other through example, collaboration and discourse, and friendly competition. But in order to attract the best students, MICA's academic resources had to be on par with the best schools. That meant, at first, fulfilling the faculty's rudimentary request for more chalk and slide projectors. Over time, however, the College has made significant and visionary investments in more advanced technology, which have spanned the gamut from simply providing computers on campus to 3D printers.
Any objective examination of the Lazarus legacy has to recognize his ability to play the "long game"—his willingness to patiently make seemingly small investments over time in a way that eventually generates long-term success. Just as the student body needed the most talented students in order to raise peer expectations regarding their collective proficiency, it also needed an infusion of diversity. A checkered past of attracting a racially diverse student body did not position the College in the light the president wanted. Lazarus unpacked the problem. To start, many African-American students wanted to learn from African-American instructors. This pointed to an even more daunting challenge—most collegiate fine arts instructors have MFAs, and when Lazarus took the reins at MICA, the number of African-American MFA-holders nationally was shockingly low. Less than two years after being installed as president, Lazarus reached out to the Ford Foundation and designed a program to fund tuition for minority MFA candidates at colleges across the country. Five years later, 100 Ford Fellows had earned an MFA degree.
Lazarus hasn't just been active improving educational options for MICA students, however. Beyond campus, he has spent a career working with, and in many cases helping to create, organizations that advocate for and set best practices in education in general and often art education specifically. He was the founding chair of the National Coalition for Education in the Arts and a founding board member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design. He has also served as chair of the Maryland Independent Colleges and Universities Association and the Arts Education Committee of the American Council for the Arts. In addition, he has served on the executive board of Maryland Campus Compact, the Baltimore City Schools Fine Arts Task Force, and on the Maryland Department of Education's Fine Arts Advisory Panel and its K-16 Leadership Council. He was a founding board member of both the Baltimore School for the Arts and the new Baltimore Fashion, Architecture, and Design School.
The remarkable results of Lazarus' efforts in elevating MICA's academic reputation are evident. MICA's MFA programs are consistently ranked in the top 10 of all MFA programs by US News & World Report, with MFA programs in graphic design and painting/drawing ranked #3 and #5, respectively. MICA has been ranked a top producer of Fulbright recipients in each of the past six years and was recognized as one of the top two studio arts program in the country by Parade. It has been selected as a top design school by both ID and GDUSA magazines, and named a "Best Northeastern College" by Princeton Review each of the past seven years. MICA consistently tops the list in enrolling those Presidential Scholars in the visual arts who choose an art college. Notwithstanding its elite recognition, the most important part of the Lazarus legacy is that MICA continues to attract the most talented students from around the world, and is positioned to do so well into the future.
"Whether we are discussing program philosophy, constructing ideas for innovative programs, brainstorming solutions to challenging problems, or just musing on possibilities, his vision, caring leadership, attentive engagement, deep passion, and boundless energy have always been inspirational."
Karen Carroll, EdD
Dean of the Center for Art Education