National Arts Project:
the indiVISIBLE cAmpus
Art exposes and helps resolve issues of social justice. As a cultural tool, art helps
humanize and actualize the emotions, grievances, and fears of those who may not
have another place to voice concerns. As an illustrative and journalistic tool, art shocks
and inspires us to action. What art depicts can elicit a visceral, almost cellular, reaction.
-- Phil Leonard, "How Art Creates Social Change in 5 TED Talks," cloudhead.org blog
The arts create empathy. Understanding and using the power of metaphor and story allows us to change the world. Our imaginations must lead the way for change to occur.
The NFM National Arts Project is an ongoing, collective campaign that promotes contingent academic labor activism grounded firmly in the fine arts: drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, textile arts, ceramics, digital art forms, graphic design, filmmaking, comics, mixed media, photography, music, dance, theatre, and other performing arts including writing. We believe that messaging via the arts has great power to capture the public imagination and to fast-forward gains for the movement. We hope to involve faculty in the visual and performing arts as well as artists in the campus community to benefit from their networks and expertise.
Throughout the history of contingent faculty activism, arts-based efforts have been among the most effective and inspiring. From slogans and buttons to cartoons, posters, songs, plays, films and essays, both amateur and professional artists have made particularly effective use of the power of the arts to reach the crucial audience of students, fellow faculty, and members of the general public.
The theme of the Arts Project is "the indiVISIBLE campus," to emphasize the inextricable roles of the largely invisible contingent faculty within the institutions and the educational experience of students. Activists may participate in the arts project on any campus in diverse ways that will engage local viewers/participants while still resonating with the national theme.
NFM has chosen to inaugurate the campaign during Campus Equity Week 2015 because of CEW's importance in the history of the contingent faculty movement. Our goal is to use various art media to make visible the story of the contingent faculty equity movement in ways that will successfully contend for space in the public imagination.
A Unifying Visual Motif
A visual motif has been designed to unify the national arts campaign. This unifying symbol, signifying the indivisible campus, was designed by Jennie Shanker, an artist and teacher and member of United Academics of Philadelphia, in consultation with NFM. Our aim is for the motif to connect the national arts project's various creations, events and displays at every site, and we hope it will resonate with students, faculty, other campus workers and community members alike. The different versions of the iconic graphic design can be downloaded from the CEW 2015 website, custom-scaled, reproduced, and incorporated into a variety of PR materials: buttons, T-shirts, hats, mugs, frisbees, etc.
The Theme of NFM National Arts Project:
the indiVISIBLE cAmpus
--Making visible the faces and the working lives of the majority of the faculty who teach college and university courses today (the Scarlet A for "Adjunct");
--Making visible the disparity in commitment that institutions have in workers, vs. the commitment workers have;
--Making visible the dignity of higher education's lifeblood, its faculty;
--Making visible the fact that "students' learning conditions depend upon faculty working conditions" (the historical theme of CEW);
--Making visible the connections between the Q in eQuity and the Q in Quality and the Q in Questioning the current practices of the university and in Questioning to learn;
--Making inequity visible, including the hidden economics of the university today.
The fact that contingent faculty are essential to the function of the university -- its fuel, so to speak -- centers the creative work around the relationship of faculty to the university's function and product, an equation we always want to keep in people's minds.
The National Arts Projects is part of the political movement to demand equity for contingent faculty in a system where all the power has been in the hands of others, by awakening and mobilizing the latent power we have as the majority of the faculty and as members of our larger communities. Working for equity means working to implement policies that close the huge gap between contingent and non-contingent faculty with respect to compensation and access to institutional support. The goal is for all faculty to have equal support, equal access to resources and protections, and equal access to opportunities for advancement; only then will students also have equal access to quality education.
We believe that our efforts to reform higher education will be especially productive if we demand recognition of the value of the faculty's role within the organization, recognition that the treatment of contingent faculty reflects back on the quality of the institution itself and the value the institution places on the work it wants done. We argue that a university that disinvests in and disrespects its workforce cannot be understood to value the service it provides to students and society.
We urge activist artists/storytellers to expand the discourse of exposing unjust treatment of individual faculty members to include a critique of a corrupted and unsustainable system that hurts all of society. The university is selling the public short. The university is running out of gas. The university is like an economy running on migrant labor. The possibilities for metaphors, images, and creativity are almost endless.
A Word about Nomenclature
Many different terms are used to refer to people working in contingent academic positions: adjuncts, part-timers, contract faculty, lecturers, contingent faculty, extraordinary faculty, precarious faculty. While it's important to respect people's preferences for whatever terms they are most comfortable with, it's also important to establish some consistency so that our efforts to educate the general public are most successful. We shouldn't focus on the term "part-time" b/c many "part-time" faculty work more than full-time, and many who may be working full-time are at-will employees, too, and may be employed part-time again in the near future. Many faculty object to the denotation of "adjunct" being non-essential. "Contingent faculty" is the most widely used term; the word "contingent" also ties us in with the larger movement surrounding insecure workers whether they are part-time or full-time.
Validity of this Campaign for the University Mission
The consequences of inequitable contingent employment practices are central to the degradation of higher education. Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, has noted that "Inequality is the seminal issue of our time. Inequality drives us away from each other and makes it hard to think in expansive ways to solve collective problems. Today fewer institutions, including colleges, are willing to hold that mirror up to America. Artists hold the mirror up and make us uncomfortable. They interrogate us. They demand reflection and the search for truth." Because "systems of inequality distort our seeing," in the words of Stanford's Jeff Chang, we need artists to hold that mirror up to higher education, to help everyone see the world of the university as it truly is -- and to imagine what it should be instead.
CEW15/NAP Logo -- Design by Jennie Shanker