Closing UArts degrades the value of an arts education | The Triangle

Closing UArts degrades the value of an arts education

Photo courtesy of Beyond My Ken | Flickr

Last week, the University of the Arts abruptly announced that it will be closing its doors at the end of the school year. All current students will be redirected to other local institutions. This announcement comes after the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts stated in January that it will cease to offer its undergraduate degree programs. 

In the wake of the sudden closure, students and staff are left scrambling. Eventually, though, students will transfer, professors will find other employment and everyone will slowly adjust to the shift. Of course, I sympathize with all those slighted by the closure, but there is a much larger tragedy lurking under the surface.

Arts colleges in the United States are already slighted and pushed to the margins. In many ways, it seemed like UArts was an outlier to the rule; it was so deeply entrenched in the Philadelphia arts scene, not to mention the school dates back to 1876. All the same, UArts found itself in a financial crisis and opted to simply shut the doors.

As inflation soars and the job market thins, especially for recent college graduates, students pour into programs they think will see the best and the fastest results. At the same time, less financially desirable programs get tossed aside. Always the butt of every joke, a bachelor’s degree in an artistic field is largely viewed as a complete waste.

It is very easy to agree. After all, we need engineers to design our cars, computer programmers to invent the next app I will get addicted to and businessmen to make sure the cars and the apps make money. There are completely non-cynical reasons that these are popular fields of study — they are important jobs.

On the other hand, sinking all the exorbitant costs of a university education into a degree in film, creative writing or illustration is a less obvious value proposition. Even if one manages to break into a competitive industry, what is the point? Doctors, nurses and scientists are saving lives. Without David Lynch, the world will continue to spin.

And yet, I do not want to live in a world without David Lynch — a world without artists. The arts fill the world with beauty, as in the old adage that art makes life worth living. More importantly, good art will constantly challenge all that we believe. The job of an art school is to teach this invaluable skill.

While the methods should be condemned, let us not get so bogged down about who broke the news that we forget the biggest loss is that an art school is now gone. An institution that raised generations of artists will never do so again. In a world that needs more beauty, we have lost an institution dedicated to producing it. Above all, we are living in a moment where we need to question our traditions and beliefs. That is to say, we need artists.

I hope that current UArts students can find other roads to continue their important work and to David Lynch, himself a PAFA alum, thank you.