Programme hopes to slash cost of education for artists
Chase Szakmary wanted a career as an artist and thought he was doing everything right to make that happen.
After he completed his studies in the US, he followed his passion to the UK where he excelled in a master's art programme.
Back at home in New York, although people told him he had talent, none of his accomplishments seemed to matter.
"No one cared that I went to a top university. I was alone in a basement making art. It was tough because you feel like you're literally on an island. All those resources of the last four to six years, that safety net is gone when you graduate."
Mr Szakmary did some research, took leave from his job as an adjunct professor and set his sights on making life a lot easier for other struggling artists.
"After several years of art education I think most of the value is [in being able to figure out] how do I want to live as a practising artist?
"The idea is to keep those connections, to keep critical discourse around your artwork and hopefully change our education for the better – where it's giving back control to the key stakeholders, which is the artists and teachers, the educators."
His solution is Crit, "global art communities" that connect "emerging talent and art affiliates connected with top institutions from around the world" such as Sotheby's, Goldsmiths, University of London, University of the Arts London, School of Visual Arts, Yale and Columbia University.
"It's a leaner more cost-effective solution that creates wider access to art education, hopefully on a more personalised level and a more equitable level," Mr Szakmary said.
"Crit is shorthand for critique. When you're at university it's probably the most popular word in art school. Did you get a crit today?"
A frequent visitor, Mr Szakmary returned to the island last week to gauge interest from stakeholders, mainly art galleries and the Bermuda College.
"We've been in touch but it's still really nascent, early on; we're almost piloting the programme," he said. "It made a lot of sense to start working out of Bermuda where there's a tremendous amount of talent, where we can try to build up the charitable giving side of it.
"The whole [idea] is connecting developing artists with experts, not only based on discipline and their level of experience in art but what are their motivations as artists? What are their goals? To strategically approach education in a way that would provide more good value solutions for those artists."
The idea came out of an experience he had that initially, he saw as a failing.
"I didn’t get into Yale," Mr Szakmary said. "But I won an opportunity to do a critique with the top artist at Yale who was represented by a few galleries. This was after my degree and I can say that one critique had greater influence over my artistic practice than 90 per cent of what I'd done in art school. Because it was someone who had more experience than myself, who I had a very strong rapport with because we had relatable work and relatable ethos around art making."
The artist "strategically" pointed out galleries Mr Szakmary might be interested in and ways that could help mature and develop his work. The artist also suggested "cost-effective solutions and resources" that he thought Mr Szakmary might benefit from.
"Throughout my experiences – teaching and as a student both in the States and overseas – I realise there's a tremendous amount of fat on the traditional art educational model in so far as when we invest in a university programme we don’t have an opportunity to get to know our teachers or professors.
"Each one of those teachers and professors represents thousands and thousands of dollars per credit hour. In my situation, of 20-plus professors I built a really strong rapport with two or three. The idea that we can go on to Amazon and have better options and availability [with] household items – $10, $20 items – is crazy when sometimes people invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in education and it's not exactly what they perceived."
Added to that is the stress that is often involved in repaying expensive student loans. According to Mr Szakmary, only 10 per cent of art graduates actually go on to become professional artists; 70 per cent of university professors are adjunct professors working at or below the poverty line.
"The level of mental health issues at the university level, especially the master's level and so on, is just compounded by extreme debt that artists go into. The amount of PhD professors I know who have graduated from top programmes around the world who can't get work is astounding so there's no lack of talent out there who can support artists and do it in a more cost-effective, economical way.
"Art students have more extreme debt than any other college major at the university level. You can go to [Rhode Island School of Design] and pay $300,000. You can go to Harvard and spend $300,000. You'll be able to pay off that probably within a year-and-a-half at Harvard but when you graduate from RISD the average professional artist earns about a $30,000 salary. So the odds of paying that off …"
His aim is not to discourage people from going to university but to make sure they do not enrol "blindly".
"It's not about saying that university is a bad decision it's just you wouldn’t blindly invest thousands of dollars into the stock market without doing a bit of research. The idea is to do it on a more personalised, intuitive level.
"I graduated at the top of my class from a well established institution and employment was pretty bleak so I think of [Crit] as the largest impact I can make in the art world, more than anything I put on a canvas."
He is hoping to have a pilot programme in place in Bermuda by January and build from there.
"The current models are no longer supporting all artists' needs and that’s painfully obvious," he said. "These institutions, they're fantastic and there are a lot of bright people but let's be a little bit more strategic about where we're placing our effort and money and time."
For more information visit crit.art