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Alumni Profile, cont.

What does this mean for MCAD? Whenever there is a change in academic leadership, whether it is the president or the department chair, it is a time of flux. Potential is explored through collective assessment where the program has been and imagined possibilities. A primary responsibility of the new department chair is to provide stable leadership that supports the core values of the department while building new direction in cooperation with the faculty.

Like the tension between the roles of artist and teacher, there is a tension between the roles of administrator and artist. Both roles are very consuming. Wirth has the taxing job of providing leadership and direction to the fine arts department of a major art school. As an artist, she must also find time for the studio. She regards this as a question of balance.

Although my office always looks like a tornado tore through it, I am really organized and efficient and can multitask pretty well. I can be doing one thing and thinking about another, which is supported by the academic schedule. During the school year, the back of my head is full of questions about my art, a subtle problem solving technique that’s always at work. So, during the breaks I am really ready to go into the studio. It is also important that I have a deadline. There’s always a show or project on the horizon line that I can work toward.

Throughout my academic career, I have sought out and maintained a balance among compatible yet competing professional interests-art/academic administration, professional art practice, and teaching. Unfolding the relationships among books, sculpture and architecture, between teaching and administering, and art and life is an ongoing act of curiosity and exploration. The balance among separate but compatible elements in my artwork underscores the balance in my career.

Wirth has some sage advice for artists who might want to pursue a career in art administration. She suggests that potential arts administrators learn the value of cooperative problem solving. They should ask questions, listen, and learn. Don’t settle. Just because it has been that way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Change is disruptive, but with good guidance it can be navigated. Both lead and be a member of the community you administer. Top-heavy management results in isolation.

Public service is a major aspect of Karen Wirth’s career. She feels that she has a responsibility to the community and doesn’t think about it as “public service.” She serves on the board of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and has served as panelist for a variety of public art projects. Her professional affiliations are many. She is currently on the steering committee for the 2004 conference of the Mid-America College Art Association.

Public service was an integral element of my family upbringing. Professionally, it is connected to a life-long commitment to teaching. Obtaining a BFA in Art Education was the beginning of 27 years of teaching, from K-12 and museum education to the MFA in Sculpture and teaching in private colleges and public universities. Of all of the many professional activities I do, it is the one that goes most to my core values- connection to community, responsibility for and to others, and sharing of self in order to help others succeed.

Alumni Art-E-Facts Newsletter,
College of Liberal Arts,
University of Minnesota, Fall 2003