Media Arts and Culture (MAC), previously a program within Art History and Visual Arts (AHVA), is now an independent department following a unanimous faculty vote Feb. 23, according to MAC Professor Broderick Fox.
Students in both departments will experience few fundamental changes, according to current AHVA chair Fox, who will chair MAC next year. MAC and AHVA already operated with separately managed budgets and different specialized support staff and senior comprehensive project timelines.
“In a lot of respects this is formally catching up with some existing realities that have been there for a while,” Fox said.
AHVA Professor Mary Beth Heffernan, who will replace Fox as AHVA chair in the fall, said the change formalizes a long-running separation between the two areas. According to Heffernan, the separate management of the intense technical needs of MAC production, including the media lab and sound studio, and art — such as printmaking, bookmaking and sculpture studios — is now recognized. For Heffernan, the distinct histories of film and art departments at Occidental and other schools add justification for the separation.
“There’s a practical aspect, and there’s also a history to our various media that’s very different,” Heffernan said.
Despite these distinctions between MAC and AHVA, Heffernan said she has enjoyed working with students from MAC, as well as other departments on campus, and hopes to continue to do so in the future.
For new MAC majors, the split will expand elective options to include a broader spectrum of classes, Fox said. Previously, students were required to take one class in both art history and visual art. Now, students can fulfill those elective requirements with classes in other areas, such as music, theater, English or history.
Theodore Caleb Haas (senior), who called himself a MAC major even before the official separation, is happy to see the change. As MAC’s student production coordinator, Haas oversees student production, including teaching new students about production logistics and film permits on and off campus. Even though he is graduating this year, he sees the change as beneficial for his younger peers.
“They’ll still have more choices in class selections, and that’s really the best thing,” Haas said.
Curricular changes will not impact students already studying MAC as AHVA majors, according to Fox. Students will have to petition the department to change their course catalog year on their graduation application come senior year if they want to be judged based on the new requirements.
Within the new requirements, Fox said he hopes to maintain academic and theory-based rigor in the department, and wants to emphasize to incoming MAC students the necessity of incorporating the sequential courses in their schedules.
“We just want to make sure that we’re still able to keep that high standard of expectations with students, and keep that boutique, collaborative, connected community that I think has really characterized Media Arts and Culture to date,” Fox said.
According to Heffernan, AHVA will not likely experience significant curricular changes, and she hopes to maintain the specificity of visual and historical art theory, history and practice. She did say faculty are discussing a possible name change for the department, as the visual arts component of AHVA was included specifically to signify media arts.
“I think it’s an exciting moment and opportunity for both MAC and AHVA to be able to reframe what already makes us unique in a way that’s going to be more visible, both within the college and beyond,” Fox said.
The process of separation of the departments, according to Fox, has been smooth, which he attributes to mutual respect within the faculty, as well as the modest nature of the changes.
While the official application and review process for creating MAC as its own department began last September, the possibility has been under consideration for years.
The process began in spring 2014 when AHVA conducted a self-study — an undertaking each department assumes every 5–6 years — followed by an external review that fall. According to Fox, during the spring 2015 semester, in analyzing the findings of both the self-study and external review, AHVA faculty began raising questions about how to best serve the programs within the department, and looking at the possibility of separating.
Fox and his colleagues submitted a new department application form to the Academic Planning Committee (APC) in September, where it was reviewed, revised and resubmitted. In early October, the proposal was presented to all department chairs, and then revised again with their feedback and resubmitted to APC. It was deemed ready for presentation to the full faculty by mid-November.
Due to the Oxy United for Black Liberation occupation of the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center in November, and the prioritization of student resistance movements on campus at the time, the proposal was not presented to the full faculty until the Jan. 26 meeting.