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Art department adds new faculty member on Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship

Contributed photo.
Contributed photo.

In Fall 2018, Ally Christmas will join the College’s Art and Art History Department as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow.

As funded by an endowment from Grinnell College and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Andrew Kaufman, art and art history chair, describes the program as mutually beneficial to the fellow and the department.

The grant, which stipulates that the fellow must have recently received their Masters of Fine Arts (MFA), will allow for Christmas to teach in a mentored environment while having time to advance her own research and work.

“The program correspondingly benefits departments by allowing a small increase in the number of course offerings and the opportunity to bring in contemporary perspectives from a recent MFA,” said Kaufman.

Christmas will receive her MFA in photography and video this month from the University of Georgia in Athens. Christmas visited Grinnell’s campus on April 13, after receiving the fellowship, and gave a lecture on her video work. Kaufman described how her lecture focused on “video-grabbing,” or taking video and images from a variety of platforms and altering them to focus on ideas such as “the divided, the split, the self,” and to ask questions like “who are we, how are we shaped, how is technology shaping us?”

At the College, Christmas will take on a video and new media position. In the job posting Kaufman wrote, “we are broadly defining Video as a time-based sequencing of created, found, and/or captured imagery, and New Media as a digital-based practice that intersects with one or more of the following: Coding, Imaging, Mapping, Glitch, Internet, Animation, Emerging Technologies, Virtual Reality, and Sound Art.”

Christmas will be teaching one course per semester over the next two years. She will first introduce a 100-level video course which will have no prerequisites and an enrollment cap of 15 students. The second course that Christmas will teach is a 200-level new media course focused on a medium of her choosing. Both courses will fit into the progression of the studio art major.

For the past year, a committee of faculty from across campus has been discussing the potential for a media studies major. Last year students also circulated a petition calling for a media studies major. Although Kaufman has not been involved in the committee, he does see a need for such a major.

Kaufman has taught digital media since 2008 and has continuously experienced difficulties in getting his students the materials and equipment necessary for their studies. In addition to a lack of resources, the art department has only one studio technician, Joe Lacina, who has far too many responsibilities for one person. Kaufman hopes that the fellowship will temporarily fill some of the voids in the department, while showing the College a need for additional faculty. 

“We thought this would be an awesome strategical way to show institutional want and need from students,” Kaufman said. He predicts that interest in Christmas’ classes will be high, with more students registering than can be accommodated. The new media and video classes will likely demonstrate interest in a Media Studies Major, bolstering the committee’s efforts. 

“We talk about film and film theory in a lot of different courses on campus, but we don’t have a dedicated program for the new technology that’s pervasive everywhere,” Kaufman said. “If you think about Grinnell college and their hope to be forward thinking and ahead, it seems sadly inadequate for the students I’m seeing.” 

In a follow up email with The S&B, Kaufman explained that a new course form is in the process of being completed for the 100-level class in videography, the first course which Christmas will offer. Kaufman expects the course to be visible in the online course catalog by the week of May 7. The class will have no prerequisites and will be open to all student years, capping at an enrollment of 15 students. 

After receiving the fellowship, Christmas visited campus and spoke with members of the Art SEPC. “I was so pleased to learn how excited they were to have video classes offered in the Studio Art Department,” Christmas wrote. “It seems like there is already some incredible student work being made and I can’t wait to jump in and help contribute to that.”

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