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Open Enrollment Newbie

For many people, getting an MFA is a way to further develop desired skills, whether theoretical or technical. For others, it is a path to networking, and cracking the hard shell of the Art World and finally “make it.”  For me, it is an emergency raft. A sanity anchor.

Finding myself a single parent after earning my BFA and BA, I felt that an MFA was the only way not to get sucked into working at an unsatisfying 40-hours-per-week job that would have made it nearly impossible for me to continue being involved in art-making in a way that felt meaningful. I just wanted to buy more time before the tug of life outside of art pulled me under for good.

I moved from Italy to the U.S. right after I turned 20, with my two year old twin girls in tow. I needed to get away from violence in my family, from a macho culture with little space for women who didn’t want to be mothers, nuns, or TV eye candy, and from a society overburdened by its own history. Nine years later, I find myself at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, completely entrenched in this “art thing” as a second-year graduate student in the Painting and Drawing Department.

One of the most cherished aspects of going to school at SAIC is that we are not confined to one discipline, but rather we make up our own course of study as we go. I am not sure how I ended up in the Painting Department, besides the fact that painting is a medium I became familiar with in college. I think there was also a ridiculous stubbornness  in knowing that SAIC’s Paintings and Drawings department was the hardest to get into, so I wanted to prove to myself that I could. In any case, I am not making paintings.

I am interested in issues of participation, social inequality, and the lived environment. I look at public space as a place where a sense of ourselves, both as individuals and members of society, is in a state of continual formation and reconsideration. As an artist, I seek to explore how aesthetics can interact with a public setting. I specifically want to investigate how art can “activate” an environment in order to expand how a place is experienced, or to revitalize a passive space. I identify with taking on a multiplicity of roles, and believe in having a flexible and dynamic practice to address the concerns presented by this particular historical moment.

I didn’t follow a straight path to get to where I am now. There were crappy service jobs, many basement punk shows, learning to work on bikes, very little sleep, teaching gender violence prevention in public schools, and the constant wondering about whether it was possible to be a good artist, a good parent, and a good person at the same time.

I have been trying to figure out what makes it so difficult to be a parent/artist/student–is it the school, the city I live in, or is it that the demands of those different roles are just incompatible? I am guessing it is a combination of factors. I often rave about how much I love school, but in truth, it is a complicated affair. SAIC is an institution, and like many other schools it is moving towards a more corporate outlook, where marketing and image are becoming increasingly important. I am not happy about the fact that much of the faculty are underpaid assistant teachers with no benefits or job security. I am outraged at a school that is quick to talk diversity, but has an annual tuition rate that keeps going up, while financial assistance is meager for most people. It is incredible to think that most private art schools offer even fewer grants for student than SAIC does.  I am burdened by classes that are only offered outside of my daughters’ school hours, so I have to struggle to find weekly childcare.

On the other hand, I have met some of the most intelligent, caring faculty I could ever imagine. People that have become the parental figures I never had. I do not underestimate how much their presence pushes me forward when I feel rudderless. Other students are a bit of a different story. Even though we are the same age, I cannot hang out late into the night, or at the drop of a hat. I can’t be hungover, or wake up past 6:45am. I know I am not alone in this. Still, rationalizing the facts does not always make it easier to bear my inability to fit in.

As I approach graduation, a whole new set of questions have started swirling into my head, as I rush my now 12-year-old daughters to their school at the crack of dawn, to then rush to my school; as I fall asleep in dark lecture halls, and stay up into the night scheming about my next project. What am I going to do after May? How can I survive and provide for the girls? Will I end up dog-sitting and living in a one bedroom apartment forever, or will I be able to keep making art and challenging myself? So, during my final year of my MFA studies, I hope you can be my companions of adventure, my allies and co-conspirators in this period of transition and turmoil both in my life, and out in the streets. Ready? Here we go!

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