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Centennial Case Statement

Originally formed in 1911 as an advocacy group to address standardization of academic courses in studio practice and art history, the College Art Association began engaging the needs of teaching artists and scholars by establishing an Annual Conference and publishing a journal, The Art Bulletin. Soon after, the organization created and issued authoritative statements on professional, ethical, and practical matters, began advocating for the visual arts on the national and international levels, and much more. Today CAA serves more than fifteen thousand individual and institutional members, which include artists, scholars, curators, educators, critics, and students as well as colleges, universities, libraries, museums, and research centers.

Over the course of one hundred years, CAA has led many progressive developments in the art and academic worlds. In the 1920s, it helped establish art history as a legitimate subject in the humanities and founded a second journal, Parnassus. The organization was instrumental in the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, while also circulating traveling exhibitions and supporting the work of African American artists. As schools and students benefited from teaching innovations by émigré artists and scholars from Europe in the 1940s, CAA established a monographic book series and worked to have photography and film recognized as art forms worthy of study. While the next decade witnessed a status-quo attitude that paralleled American culture at large, the increasing participation of artists in the 1960s led to a statement declaring the MFA as the terminal degree for artists, a position that stands to this day. In the 1970s, feminism influenced CAA’s direction in important ways, especially with the first woman president of its Board of Directors, Anne Coffin Hanson. The same decade also saw the development of a robust Standards and Guidelines program and the establishment of the Millard Meiss Publication Fund. During the 1980s, representatives from the newly established Affiliated Societies program—which included groups like the International Center of Medieval Art, the Women’s Caucus for Art, Foundations in Art: Theory and Education, and the Visual Resources Association—contributed important content to CAA’s expanded conference. The Culture Wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s spurred the organization to take a firm stance supporting the First Amendment and to establish a fellowship program for graduate students from socially and economically diverse backgrounds. In addition, caa.reviews, one of the first born-digital art journals, was launched online in 1998. The last ten years have been the busiest, with a small, dedicated professional staff administering a wide range of programs and services—from book grants and graduate-student fellowships to intellectual-property assistance and advocacy for contingent faculty—while continuing to publish its distinguished journals and produce the largest international conference in the visual arts.

CAA’s long history and significant contributions to art and art history are highlighted in a new book, published by CAA and Rutgers University Press in January 2011. Edited by Susan Ball, a former executive director, The Eye, the Hand, the Mind: 100 Years of the College Art Association features essays by fourteen contributors on how CAA has influenced—indeed initiated—major changes in practices in the visual arts. Stanley N. Katz, president emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies, says, “CAA represents both intellectual and artistic creativity, and has successfully represented artists to the national academic community for one hundred years. The book … makes clear how unique CAA is among the ACLS societies, and how adeptly it has adapted to intellectual, artistic, and educational change over the years. Bravo!”

Centennial Conference, Projects, and Plans

CAA will kick off its Centennial celebration at the 99th Annual Conference, taking place February 9–12, 2011. At the Hilton New York, the headquarters hotel in midtown Manhattan, a variety of programs, receptions, and events will complement the usual conference format. These include a special awards ceremony and reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a large-scale public-art project in Times Square by the ecoartists Newton and Helen Meyer Harrison, Centennial Sessions that bring together well-known figures for passionate cross-disciplinary exchange on such topics as “Experience” and “Art/Technology Global Sample,” and a toast to CAA’s anniversary at the Annual Members’ Business Meeting. As an inclusive organization, CAA will offer free access to the public for many Centennial events. The celebration will continue through the year and conclude at the Los Angeles conference in February 2012.

CAA’s publications have undoubtedly been a highly influential and recognized program for facilitating scholarly discourse in the visual arts. Founded in 1913, The Art Bulletin, which covers the full range of art history, is now the preeminent journal for the field. Developed from Parnassus (1929), Art Journal has evolved into a significant venue for presenting and debating modern and contemporary art, and the progressive online publication caa.reviews (1998) has filled a longstanding need for critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and conferences. For the Centennial year, the editorial boards for the three journals are drawing from the full run of their respective back issues to create “virtual anthologies” of landmark articles and reviews that will be accessible through the CAA website. Howard Singerman has written an ambitious essay on the history of Art Journal to accompany its compilation, while Natalie Kampen and Lucy Oakley will respectively introduce the collections for The Art Bulletin and caa.reviews. Among the authors anthologized are Meyer Schapiro, Millard Meiss, Linda Nochlin, Leo Steinberg, Howardena Pindell, Daniel Buren, Allan Sekula, and Claudia Mensch.

Early in 2010, CAA unveiled a new strategic plan, based on feedback from members, that identifies core goals and objectives for the next five years. To this end, the Centennial year will energize many strategies CAA has developed. Priorities include increasing support to artists, bringing designers into our circle, enhancing international outreach, and stepping up advocacy efforts—all of which allow the organization to strengthen its vital presence throughout the field.

CAA Today

CAA’s 2010–2015 Strategic Plan identifies numerous goals to strengthen its core programs and publications and to enhance leadership in the visual arts nationally and internationally. In particular, four key areas of activity—advocacy, opportunities and networking, communication, and career enhancement—represent the organization’s current activities and provide direction for the future.

From defending First Amendment rights to addressing the high cost of image reproduction, CAA advocates nationally on issues important to artists and scholars. Representatives from the membership, staff, and the Board of Directors annually visit Washington, DC, for Arts Advocacy Day and Humanities Advocacy Day, and CAA regularly alerts members to take action on specific issues, such as increased funding for the NEA, NEH, and IMLS. Further, the organization has long supported federal legislation for fair-market-value tax deductions for artists donating works to museums and nonprofit institutions. Most recently, CAA filed amicus briefs for two freedom-of-expression court cases (United States v. Stevens and Kleinman v. City of San Marcos), supported federal legislation to protect publishers from libel tourism, and helped produce a survey on working conditions for contingent faculty in higher education.

Taken as a whole, the Annual Conference is designed to be a networking event for the visual-arts community—a place for conversations to begin, develop, and continue. Chairing or delivering a paper in a program session helps widen not only professional contacts but also employment prospects. In addition, artists can network with colleagues through an open-portfolio event called ARTexchange, and the Student and Emerging Professionals Committee introduces its constituents to the conference and the profession at large through programming in a dedicated space. On its website, CAA provides an Opportunities section that offers calls for papers and entries, conference and symposia listings, and prospects for grants, fellowships, and residencies; members also have access to the Online Member Directory. More broadly, CAA maintains close links with seventy affiliated societies, which include like-minded learned societies and organizations in specialized areas of study and practice.

CAA has embraced digital communications and innovative technology, connecting with members and the general art public through an extensive website, complete with RSS feeds of the latest news. CAA also has a major presence on Facebook and Twitter. The organization recently developed a weekly email edition of CAA News, which keeps members up to date on CAA programs, services, and events, and on larger issues in the art and academic worlds. The three journals—The Art Bulletin, Art Journal, and caa.reviews—provide members with current scholarship on historical and contemporary art and ideas.

As a professional organization, CAA supports the careers of its members through a multitude of programs, services, and events. The Online Career Center is the first stop for members seeking jobs in higher education and museums, allowing users to view employment classifieds, post their CVs, and apply for positions directly. Published formally since 1973, the organization’s Standards and Guidelines determine professional, ethical, and useful practices in the visual arts and are regularly updated through the leadership of the Professional Practices Committee. Further, CAA holds professional-development workshops, roundtables, portfolio reviews, and mentoring sessions at the conference and around the United States throughout the year. With an eye toward the future, the workshops have inspired a podcast program addressing career-building skills that should launch in early 2011. In addition, CAA is currently revising its indispensable Directories of Graduate Programs in the Arts and planning a book on contemporary artist members, led by the Services to Artists Committee. Finally, three board-appointed task forces are exploring projects that could have widespread impact: a practical publication series addressing such issues as health and safety in the studio, pedagogical approaches for emerging instructors, and digital publishing; editorial safeguards and procedures to improve training for editors at CAA and beyond, and recommendations for best practices for the use of animal and human subjects in art.

Concluding Remarks

Through these Centennial events, current programs, and new initiatives, CAA hopes to historicize and contextualize the organization, present its goals and plans for the future, improve communication with and among its members, and promote the visual arts to a wider global audience. With an eye on evolving issues in the field, CAA embarks on its second century with a renewed commitment to serving the critical needs of its members. While CAA encourages reflecting on and celebrating the extraordinary contributions of the past one hundred years, it also seeks support from its members to strengthen its active, vital engagement with the future of the profession.

Originally published on the CAA website on February 2, 2011.