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An Interview with DeWitt Godfrey

The College Art Association caught up with DeWitt Godfrey, the new president of the CAA Board of Directors, via email shortly after the board’s spring meeting, which was held on May 4, 2014, to talk about the organization’s direction.

Godfrey, professor of sculpture in the Department of Art and Art History at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, recently began his two-year term. A board member since 2009, he has served on the Executive Committee as secretary (2010–12) and vice president for committees (2012–14). Godfrey succeeds Anne Collins Goodyear, codirector of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Bowdoin, Maine, who has led the board since May 2012.

You reorganized the Professional Practices Committee to bring many of the guidelines and standards up to date. What progress has been made over the past few years?

During my term as chair, the Professional Practices Committee created a set of procedures and practices that would ensure that each standard and guideline would be reviewed—and updated as needed—on a regular schedule. Over the past few years, using these “guidelines for guidelines,” the committee has updated dozens of our standards, some of which had languished for decades. The Standards and Guidelines section is one the most visited on our website, and the CAA staff members field inquiries concerning best practices in the field on almost a daily basis. This section is one of the most important services we provide for membership, institutions, and the field more broadly.

The 2015–2020 Strategic Plan addresses advocacy for part-time faculty, instituting leadership ladders at CAA, building membership, and social networking. How would you like CAA to respond to these four issues during your term as president?

I can think of no issue of greater importance to CAA and our membership than the rapidly changing academic workforce and the plight of part-time and contingent faculty. CAA has been premised on the assumption that the basic needs of our academic members—economic stability, benefits, support for scholarship—would be met by their home institutions. With the increasing reliance on part-time and adjunct faculty, those assumptions are eroding, sometimes with alarming consequences. CAA must respond to these challenges through expanded advocacy at the governmental and institutional level (we are already members of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce) and moving to understand and meet the professional needs of this growing segment of our constituents.

A strong organization requires strong leadership. We are striving to cultivate leaders among the members of our standing Professional Interests, Practices, and Standards Committees and our awards and publishing-grant juries. We are also working to persuade CAA members of the benefits of committee service who can help us meet the organization’s challenges both now and in the future. We often reach out to members and even beyond CAA for specific expertise to augment the work of committees and task forces. We volunteer our time and talents, committed to the vision of CAA as the preeminent international leadership organization in the visual arts. We also recognize how CAA has supported our own teaching, practice, and service in myriad ways and want to provide the same benefits for our colleagues at all stages of their careers.

As CAA begins its second century, we face many of the same issues confronting other membership organizations in a digital world in which access to rich troves of information and services are decentralized and diffuse. The arts are where a diversity of disciplines come together. Over time, the needs and interests of our membership have undergone dramatic transformation; we want to continue to provide programs, publications, services, and opportunities that reflect the changing needs in the field and to deliver critical support to individual members over the course of their careers. We need to ask what benefits CAA membership provides. What can CAA do for it members that other learned societies cannot? How can we advocate the visual arts more broadly? How can we cultivate a membership with a diversity of practices and practitioners?

How has teaching art changed over the last fifteen years?

Over the last fifteen years the disciplinary model of studio teaching has come under pressure, mirroring the shifting, overlapping boundaries of artistic practices. The challenge is to provide an equivalent depth and rigor of a particular disciplinary practice in an art world and context in which disciplinary distinctions have lost much of their meaning and value. More dramatically, the reach of digital tools into every area of art practice is creating a wholesale revolution, a fundamental disruption of how and what we make, how and what we teach, and how we understand the role of art and design in the twenty-first century.

How have your travels and study in other countries—Japan, England, and Scotland—affected how you teach art?

Work and travel in other countries provides both rich new worlds and materials and new vantage points from which to examine on your own history and experience. As Buckaroo Banzai put it, “wherever you go there you are.” Different cultures and people understand the world in different ways. I draw upon my international experiences that bring alternative perspectives to my process and practice—often from outside an art context—which helps me to reimagine familiar materials, ideas, and histories.

The Cambridge Arts Council in Massachusetts recently commissioned a public-art project called Waverly. What’s the progress like?

We are currently working the engineers on the location and design of the foundation elements, ahead of the road and bike path improvements that my project will be part of. My piece will span a bike path in a converted railway right of way, along the edge of MIT housing. The path also provides access for fire and safety vehicles, so my sculpture must meet strict width and height requirements. Right now we are projecting a completion sometime in 2015.

Originally published on the CAA website on May 14, 2014.