Melissa Merli: What’s the big idea? FAA dean has lots of them

Melissa Merli: What’s the big idea? FAA dean has lots of them

Of all the University of Illinois colleges that engage with the community, the College of Fine and Applied Arts might just be the most active.

Many of us enjoy the college's many concerts, recitals, exhibitions, lectures and other events. No doubt the College of Fine and Applied Arts adds immeasurably to the quality of life here in Chambana.

So I had wanted to sit down for a while now with Edward Feser, who in late 2012 took over as dean of FAA, as it's called.

I finally did. I enjoyed chatting with him about what's going on at and the future of FAA as well as Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and Krannert Art Museum, both community magnets.

Here's some of what we talked about:

— Feser oversees a college with roughly 2,400 students and 240 faculty, of which 185 are tenure-track positions. He would like to add more faculty, likely through attrition, though. Another challenge: stabilizing the enrollment decline the college has seen in recent years.

"It's a challenge in the arts right now for a variety of reasons," said Feser, whose background is in urban planning.

With tuition increases in public and private higher education and the economy the way it is, the arts tend to be harder hit as students — and parents — look for majors that will lead to higher earnings right out of school.

Engineering or science, anyone?

But UI FAA graduates are doing well, Feser said. One-hundred percent of the last graduating class are in internships (often unpaid these days), paid positions or grad school, he said.

And studies show arts alumni have higher job satisfaction than do grads from other disciplines, he said.

To increase enrollment, Illinois has to raise more money for scholarships for FAA students; Feser said that's a major priority for the next few years.

The majority of gifts to FAA now come from individuals. Yet some companies are interested in hiring people with an arts background, he said.

"Personally, I think we could develop some corporate connections," Feser said. "But we haven't done so so far."

The college has development officers at work in that and other areas, and recently hired a person to recruit students to FAA.

— Feser would like to see the College of Fine and Applied Arts "soften" its borders, so to speak, to allow more arts majors to take courses in other disciplines and allow more non-art majors to take courses offered by FAA.

One obstacle: arts majors often spend long hours in a studio course or practice, preventing them from taking classes outside FAA.

Another: Colleges try to enroll their majors in their courses first.

"I do think there is a need on the part of the college to find creative ways around those hurdles," the dean said, suggesting short courses for non-majors.

One big way students outside of FAA engage in the college is through University bands. This year the Marching Illini is seeing among its ranks a record number of engineering majors, Feser said.

"Lots of students in engineering who play music would like to see greater opportunities to combine or have double majors" or minors in the arts, Feser said.

— Krannert Art Museum has over recent summers undergone improvements such as an improved heating/air-conditioning and ventilation system that better preserves the art on loan and in its collection.

Feser said a bit more significant renovations are planned to improve the galleries. The effort to raise money for that is in a "quite phase," mainly from private sources.

— There are lots of ideas on the table for the celebration in 2019 of Krannert Center's 50th anniversary, Feser said.

And, "There's some discussion about whether there could be opportunities to expand Krannert Center in some fashion," he said. "The challenge of Krannert Center is you don't want to disrupt the design of it."

Any additions would have to strengthen and not take away from architect Max Abramovitz's design, which a friend of mine recently compared to a modern-day Mayan temple.

"It's very speculative at this point but there's no question we want to expand venues for dance and the performing arts," Feser said.

The college also wants to improve the Krannert facade, infrastructure and ability to handle more technology. That would help FAA faculty push the envelope in research and teaching in multidisclipinary areas, Feser said.

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JimOATSfan wrote on February 24, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Well as a UofI architecture grad, I would recommend including the Melbourne AU Federation Square in your research for ways to upgrade the Krannert Center. Now 10-12 years old and built over railway lines, it embraces technology, performance arts and people spaces in a 21st century way.

Certainly worth a flight over if you can build consensus as worth being on your short list of complexes to incorporate 'best practices' for future Krannert Center renovations.

By the way, I once helped to deliver two extremely long and large follow spots to Krannert around the opening era, a few years before architecture school.