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Art education—from two perspectives

Elizabeth Howland, center, shows off the gantry she designed and built to Founding Dean Xavier Costa, left, and SMFA President Christopher Bratton, right. Photo by Brooks Canaday.


For her senior thesis, studio art stu­dent Eliz­a­beth How­land wanted to create a stop-​​motion film that focused on her inter­pre­ta­tion of tran­si­tion and iden­tity. But she wasn’t sure she had the tools to make the film she envisioned.

“I wanted to be able to have motion in my shots, which is a tech­nical lim­i­ta­tion of stop motion for most rigs,” said How­land. “The existing tech­niques are very constraining.”

Instead of giving in to those con­straints, How­land designed and built a rig of her own: A five-​​axis motion-​​control camera gantry, which allowed her to incor­po­rate motion into a short film. Both the rig and the film were on dis­play last month in Northeastern’s Gallery 360 as part of a thesis exhi­bi­tion called “Aug­men­ta­tion and Atrophy,” which also included the work of class­mates Amanda Brack and Juliana Valle.

The exhi­bi­tion, enti­tled “Aug­men­ta­tion and Aptrophy,” show­cased a wide range of artistic dis­ci­plines. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

How­land and Valle grad­u­ated last winter with a bach­elor of fine arts degree through a joint pro­gram offered by Northeastern’s Col­lege of Arts, Media, and Design and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Brack grad­u­ated from the joint pro­gram at Tufts University.

“That kind of work is exactly what we like to see from the col­lab­o­ra­tion between these two pro­grams,” said Nathan Felde, chair of Northeastern’s Depart­ment of Art + Design. “When I think of the future for this rela­tion­ship, I see tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ties for our stu­dents to look at inter­dis­ci­pli­nary pos­si­bil­i­ties and emerging prac­tices, some of which will be invented by these stu­dents as they collaborate.”

The joint BFA pro­gram between North­eastern and the SMFA was estab­lished in 2007, pro­duced its first grad­u­ates last year, and cur­rently enrolls about 20 stu­dents. It con­sists of 84 credit hours of art courses at the SMFA, 20 credit hours of art and design his­tory through Northeastern’s core liberal-​​arts cur­riculum, and 16 credit hours of elec­tive courses. The joint nature of the pro­gram means that stu­dents can sup­ple­ment their tra­di­tional studio art classes with courses from a range of dis­ci­plines, from dig­ital ani­ma­tion to mechan­ical engineering.

The pro­gram enabled Valle to study art and business—a dis­ci­pline not often avail­able to fine-​​arts stu­dents. “North­eastern offered that, so it was per­fect,” said Valle, a native of São Paulo, Brazil.

Through the part­ner­ship, North­eastern and the SMFA have com­bined their efforts to expose stu­dents to the art world’s latest devel­op­ments through vis­iting fac­ulty, work­shops, and lec­tures by famous artists such as pho­tog­ra­pher William Wegman. The part­ner­ship also gives stu­dents the chance to approach their art edu­ca­tion from two dif­ferent angles.

“That rare com­bi­na­tion gives our stu­dents access to courses and dis­ci­plines that would be dif­fi­cult to attain at such a great con­ve­nience and at such a high quality any­where else,” Felde said. “Here, you just have to walk across the street.”

How­land agreed. “I think I’ve hugely ben­e­fited from get­ting both sides,” she said. “North­eastern pro­vides a strong aca­d­emic course load and access to the resources of a big uni­ver­sity, and the SMFA gives you the tra­di­tional art school curriculum.”