The SAIC auditorium just may be the best venue in town. Each semester the Visiting Artists Program (VAP) hosts an impressive lecture series of A-list artists and scholars. Beginning her fifth year as VAP director, Romi Crawford possibly has the best gig in town. Crawford describes the process of developing the theme of each lecture series as a complicated collaboration with many faculty members. One of Crawford’s main objectives is to work as an advocate for the different departments, making sure that the lecture series is an eclectic mix of scholars and artists working in various media.
There are no rules when it comes to inviting a particular artist or scholar. Two years ago, Crawford approached Gagosian Gallery asking if their artist Ellen Gallagher would speak at the Minimalist series. They replied, “Gallagher doesn’t do that sort of thing.” Since Crawford and Gallagher were acquaintances when both women attended Oberlin College, Crawford decided to email the artist directly. Gallagher affectionately replied that she would be happy to speak at SAIC. “It is really a bizarre program in that there is no set formula. We are dealing with human beings. There are so many personalities involved. There is a personality that loves to do this kind of thing and there is a personality that loathes it and they are not going to do it unless it is for somebody they know,” says Crawford.
When asked which previous VAP lecturers revealed high-maintenance, humorous, or eccentric personalities, Crawford laughed but would not divulge any art world secrets. In order to maintain a certain level of professionalism, Crawford avoids the possibility of anything embarrassing happening by taking each guest speaker to the same quiet restaurant near school. She does not encourage heavy drinking or dancing into the wee hours in the morning because the visitors are expected to do studio critiques the following day.
Studio visits from an artist or scholar are the best way a SAIC student can utilize VAP. Crawford explains that some students take great advantage of VAP and attend all the lectures while others at least attend the better-known speakers.
Those students who do not frequent the SAIC auditorium will truly miss out this fall semester. The season starts off with a visit from conceptual political artist, Emily Jacir, who divides her time between New York and the West Bank. The final lecture is reserved for performance artist and writer Coco Fusco. With a variety of intriguing artists in between, the VAP series is designed so that continuous dialogue links the five lectures. Crawford is always pleased when students engage the speaker. “The idea is to question, to explore. They are supposed to be crazy, open forums for dialogue and discussion of art.”