Susan is 66 and I am 36. As Susan and I write in Making and Being:
Working in an intergenerational collective brings together, through lived and embodied experience, a sense of the past, the present, and the future. We bring in readings and references with the specificity of having lived through those debates. We speak about our need for public recognition with an honesty that is possible because we have different needs and goals according to our life stage and financial stability. For example, at the start of writing this book, Susan had job security through her tenured faculty position and supported Caroline in her successful search for a tenure-track job during the writing of this book. Likewise, Caroline and Susan supported Emilio in their search and acceptance into an MFA program. We prioritized Caroline’s need for financial stability, and then Emilio’s need to focus on making projects and being in a consistent space of learning. Moving through these life stages can bring emotional reactivity to our collective work. We can become emotionally unavailable to one another because we are trying to balance our personal goals with our collective projects.
We created an internal budget for the collective to keep track of the money that we generate from workshops, nearly all of which we put back into projects that we are working on.
From 2015–2019, we channeled most of the money we made from grants, artist fees, and pedagogical workshops toward the expenses related to our book, Making and Being.
You can see that here:
It was possible for me to contribute our workshop fees back to the collective, rather than taking that money as income, because I got a tenure-track job in 2017 at the University of Hartford. I had a full-time salary for the first time in my life. When I held open meetings for what became BFAMFAPhD in 2012–2013, I was truly unsure about my relationship to academic institutions. From 2012–2017, the collective had been a place for me to understand how my personal experience connected to the experiences of other students, adjuncts, and administrators within the academic arts institutions in the United States. I now know that this is part of the emergent academic field of “Critical University Studies,” and my salary at the University of Hartford supports me, in part, to do this research. In Making and Being, I wrote about the balance of day jobs and collective work in the following way:
In 2014, when BFAMFAPhD’s Artists Report Back came out, I was four years into teaching as an adjunct at The New School (with a stint at RISD). I turned 30 and began to think about job security with a kind of desperation. I had started to love the dialogue that is possible in the classroom; I also loved being recognized as an academic in the academic art community. The grants that had supported OurGoods.org had dried up, and TradeSchool.coop,
see chapter 3,
had never generated any money; we were opposed to payment in that collective. I was working three part-time jobs at nonprofits while teaching as an adjunct and trying to sustain my organizing work and my artistic practice. I was deeply exhausted. My partner had a tenure-track job, as did Susan, so I knew it was possible, despite all the odds against me; I had no MFA. But teaching in higher education seems to me to be the best job in the United States, despite the contradictions of tuition-driven education. Where else do you get four months off each year, support for experimental art projects, and job security for life?
Mark McGurl has called the university system, employing artists since the 1950s, the “largest patronage system for living artists in history.” I was fully aware, from BFAMFAPhD, of the contradictions held within the neoliberal university, including the fact that the majority of faculty will be adjuncts. I started applying for tenure-track jobs while also trying to find free and fully-funded MFA programs. I had job interviews at a number of places, but a few search committee members told me confidentially that the lack of an MFA was a real problem. I asked an artist to put me in touch with someone at SVA, hoping to get an MFA there. When I asked the Chair of MFA Fine Arts at SVA if I could get an MFA for free at SVA, he suggested that I teach in the program! I went from trying to get an MFA to teaching in their MFA program, starting in 2016. I kept applying for jobs.
... the university system, employing artists since the 1950s, the “largest patronage system for living artists in history.”
After teaching at The New School for seven years, from 2011–2017, and at SVA from 2016 on, I got a tenure-track job at the University of Hartford, without an MFA, in 2017. The summer before I began teaching in Hartford, I allowed myself to feel the anxiety that had propelled me from 2011 onward. I had to confront the difference between the workaholism that was necessary for my survival as a precarious adjunct and the compulsive workaholism that numbs me from the present, numbs me from feeling, and from being available to others. The incredible stress of seven years of adjunct work is starting to wear off, but the contradictions of inequity between faculty does not go away. I now have to confront the inequity of the university from the privileged side of the adjunct-tenure-trackdivide. I feel as though I have gotten on a cruise ship, sailing away from my peers, all of whom continue the precarious hussle. With the privilege of a tenure-track job, I am able to devote at least forty more hours per week on my research and organizing.
I had to confront the difference between the workaholism that was necessary for my survival as a precarious adjunct and the compulsive workaholism that numbs me from the present, numbs me from feeling, and from being available to others.
In my first year as a tenure-track faculty member at the University of Hartford, I decided to enroll in a tuition-free MFA program. This year is the first year that Bennington College has offered the Master of Fine Arts in Art and Public Action program, designed “for candidates with significant careers and substantial profes- sional experience in the visual arts, well beyond undergraduate studies.” While the University of Hartford and the School of Visual Arts have determined that I have equivalent professional experience to a Master of Fine Arts, and indeed while I have now taught graduate students for over five years, I recognize that for many institutions, it is important that all faculty possess a terminal degree. Bennington requires that I teach undergraduate courses as part of the conditions for the MFA.
So from 2018–2020, I taught three, seven-hour courses per week at the University of Hartford and one, four-hour course per week at Bennington while doing service work and research. My partner is an Associate Professor of English at the City University of New York, and switched her schedule so that she was teaching on weekends, so that we could commute from New York to Connecticut to Vermont each week. We try to be together, even if we have three different “homes” and beds to sleep in. It is exhausting. My partner has supported me throughout this entire experience. Recently, I was offered a tenure-track job at a Research-1 University, but, after many negotiations, I decided to remain at the University of Hartford. I realized that it was more important for me to stay in place, in community, with my partner and collaborators nearby than to follow some fantasy of an academic career that would leave me in solitude in a totally new context.
Today, Susan and I recognize the importance of being in a “pod” together, in a quarantine of sorts, with another friend and our partners during the COVID-19 pandemic. I just had a baby and Susan is over sixty, so we are both considered vulnerable. I am going to move to Amherst, MA, to be near Susan so we can continue our work together. Our work includes the support that Susan is offering, which means helping me to raise this child. She wrote to me the other day to say, “whatever family is, we are that.” This is what I believe chosen family is all about. Collaboration, in its most intentional and holistic form, can produce a deep emotional and intellectual friendship.