At the beginning of a semester or after a major awards show, an email always pops into my inbox from Allyson Green, Dean of Tisch School of the Arts. These emails celebrate the Tisch community by pointing to recent achievements from Tisch alumni and faculty. Emails like these, along with Facebook posts and speeches depicting the same celebratory sentiments, are dispersed among the community at large, which includes the graduate and undergraduate programs. It is ironic that receiving these emails may be one of the only tangible things the overall Tisch community truly has in common.
One of the most recent of these celebratory emails is titled “Congratulations! Oscars & More!” It references, among other things, several alumni who won Academy Awards at this year’s ceremony, including Mahershala Ali, Spike Lee and Kevin Willmott. Out of everyone mentioned in relation to the Oscars, only Gaga attended the B.F.A program at NYU — and she dropped out after less than two years.
Dean Green oversees both the M.F.A and B.F.A programs at Tisch. The graduate programs and the undergraduate programs at Tisch share the same name and some of the same buildings — and that’s about where their connection ends. Housed primarily on the upper floors of the Tisch building at 721 Broadway, the graduate programs have an entirely separate makeup of faculty and classes. The M.F.A program is also a lot more selective — Graduate Acting, for example, accepts only 16 students per year.
The two schools should be judged separately from one another in terms of quality of education and merit. Yet the programs and their alumni are conglomerated in many facets of Tisch’s online presence.
If you do a quick Google search for Tisch School of the Arts, you get an impressive list of alumni, from film legends like Martin Scorsese to more recent stars such as Black Panther’s Danai Gurira. This is the list many parents of excited, prospective undergraduate students will survey when they are weighing the merit of the school against its price point. But a good half of the alumni that pop up on this list — including the two I just mentioned — attended Tisch’s M.F.A program, which has virtually nothing to do with the B.F.A program students graduating high school will be considering. For prospective undergraduates, it is inconsequential where Debra Messing or Spike Lee got their masters degrees. But from Tisch’s online presence, it is not apparent how little Tisch undergraduate has to do with the M.F.A program. There are many innovative, successful and relevant people coming out of the B.F.A program at Tisch, such as actor/musician Donald Glover and singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers. The two programs do not have to be conflated to make either seem more impressive, and clearly separating the communities online would be a more honest way to address the stratification between them.
Even among the undergraduate Tisch community, there is an ongoing struggle to foster connection between departments — though undergraduate students are encouraged to work with their peers, it is difficult to meet people in other departments at Tisch when very few Tisch-specific crossover classes are offered. The administration knows this. At the beginning of my first year, the department chairs at Tisch’s undergraduate program gave speeches in which they spoke about the new and improved inter-departmental community. However, this has so far manifested in lackluster events like the annual Day of Community, where every department and sub-department celebrates their community in their individual and largely isolated way, without students ever truly engaging with their peers from other departments.
I do not think the Tisch administration is intentionally painting a more integrated community than the one we actually have. I do, however, find that prioritizing online connectivity over in-person community is confusing and misleading. I would like to belong to a community that exists outside of an emailing list.
“The Art School Report” is a column about the trials and tribulations of art school and the New York City art scene at large. Johanna aims to document the experiences and opinions of Tisch students and the terrifying thought of graduating into the world with an arts degree.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
Email Johanna Stone at [email protected]