SMFA at Tufts concludes its second year

SMFA's main building, 230 The Fenway, is pictured on March 24, 2017. Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily Archives

The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts (SMFA at Tufts) has just completed its second year of operation since being acquired by Tufts in June 2016. Over the past year, the administration has hired full-time faculty, improved resources for SMFA at Tufts students and worked on integrating the students and cultures of the Medford/Somerville and Fenway campuses.

When Tufts acquired the SMFA, the school came with a substantial deficit, according to Dean of the SMFA at Tufts Nancy Bauer.

“We inherited a school from the Museum of Fine Arts that was in financial straits. So we have tried to be frugal in ways that don’t negatively affect the program for the students or the faculty and at the same time to make sure that we’re improving the infrastructure and the operations as much as we can,” Bauer said, calling the budget work “a balancing act.”

According to Bauer, the SMFA at Tufts has stayed within its operating budget over the past two years, which has allowed the school to continue to resolve its deficit, though at a slightly slower rate than projected.

“The projections that we mapped out to get out of the deficit were not exactly perfect, so we’re slightly behind where we thought we would be, but we’re on track to continue moving ahead. Everything this year is better than it was last year,” she said.

Faculty Changes

This year, the SMFA at Tufts administration began the process to replace visiting faculty members — or “visiting artists” that the pre-acquisition SMFA employed as full-time faculty members — with five full-time professors of the practice. “Professors of the practice” hold the highest rank of an educator in the school, according to Bauer.

The administration conducted searches to fill the five positions and was able to hire its first-choice candidates in all of these searches. Some of the selected candidates were visiting artists at the SMFA, Bauer said.

The shift from visiting to full-time faculty was made with students’ best interests in mind, according to Bauer.

“These are the same faculty they’ve already been working with, and they may not notice they’re in a more stable position with more research funding and a bigger stake as members of our community and the future of the school, but I think that [it’s] a really good thing for students to have faculty in those positions,” she said.

Student Resources

The SMFA at Tufts also expanded Tufts-provided resources available to students on the Fenway campus over the past year. The SMFA Café Express, opened on Nov. 13, is the first Tufts dining option available for students at the Fenway campus.

“Now that they have the SMFA Café, I think that it’s a lot better than it was at the beginning of the year, which had like no food at all,” Rebecca Tang, a first-year and dual-degree student, said.

Tang said that the café carries options like paninis and salads. She describes the café as “a smaller version of Tower [Café].”

“The options at the café are very limited just because of how small it is,” Tang said.

Additionally, Tufts has improved transit between the Fenway campus and the Medford/Somerville campus. Tufts now provides a shuttle bus and three “chaser” vans, as Bauer called them, that run between the two campuses every 35 minutes, according to the shuttle service website.

Shuttle buses transport students between the two campuses eight times a day on weekdays, according to the shuttle schedule, but the shuttles can often be unreliable, according to Tang.

Bauer explained that the vans are able to travel on roads that the shuttle buses cannot, which shortens the trip for students. Shuttles are barred from driving on Storrow Drive and Memorial Drive, and must take a more circuitous route.

Bauer said that launching the more versatile van option was a priority.

“I thought it was critical for us to provide smaller vans that can go on those roads and shorten the trip and also to provide them more often. There are now up to three chaser buses that come 15 minutes after one another, which means that you can get a bus back and forth between campuses almost continuously,” Bauer said.

Bauer also noted that the administration and the transportation office are “continuously tweaking” the shuttle schedules to improve them.

Additionally, the SMFA at Tufts has partnered with the ridesharing service Lyft to provide free Lyft rides to students traveling between SMFA at Tufts buildings and their dorms between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., or 12 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Bauer hopes that the increased transportations will increase parity between students on the Fenway campus and the Medford/Somerville campus.

Cultural Shifts

According to Damaris Swass, a senior at the SMFA, integration between the two campuses continues to be an issue.

“We are encouraged to attend events at Tufts and I attended a few talks here and there but that did not make me feel integrated,” Swass said in an electronic message to the Daily.

Both Tang and Swass emphasized that the Fenway campus attracts a different kind of student than the Medford/Somerville campus, and this can make integration between the two campuses difficult.

“I think [SMFA] students tend to bond because of what they do, which is art,” Tang said. “The vibe at the SMFA is very different than the vibe [on the Medford/Somerville campus].”

Swass, who attended the SMFA for two years prior to its acquisition by Tufts, has noticed a recent change in the student culture.

“The incoming students and younger students don’t know what SMFA was like,” Swass said. “We tried hard to keep our culture but SMFA was archaic for Tufts and in an effort of updating our system [Tufts] augmented our culture.”

Swass also explained that the SMFA at Tufts has increasingly focused on the Combined Degree program rather than the traditional Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program.

“I understand that the Dual Degree program had a low retention rate and the administration wants to change that but the BFA program is shrinking each year,” Swass said. “It kind of makes [BFA students] feel like we are not as important to Tufts as [combined degree students].”

Swass noted that her diploma, which is from Tufts, says that she completed her education at “Tufts University in Medford, Mass.,” despite having taken only four classes on the Medford/Somerville campus.

Swass also said that not living on the Medford/Somerville campus makes it difficult for her and other students to feel like a part of the Tufts experience.

Bauer, however, noted that this year has seen an increase in collaboration between students and faculty at the SMFA at Tufts and students and faculty from across many institutes and schools at Tufts.

“We have well over a hundred collaborations of all kinds, at the level of curriculum, co-curricular activities and research, across not just the rest of Arts and Sciences and Engineering on the Medford campus, or Fletcher or the Tisch College, but also with the medical school and the school of nutrition and the vet school,” she said. “It’s been amazing to watch how much collaboration is happening and how many people are excited to have visual artists and studio artists in our midst.”