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May 11, 1998

Art history becomes a department, offers public lecture

By Barbara McKenna

UCSC's art history program has been formally established as a department. Art history also announces a free public lecture on Thursday, May 14, by Robert Farris Thompson of Yale University, one of the world's leading experts in African and African-Atlantic visual cultures (see details, below).

"The art history program is nationally recognized for the caliber of its faculty and curriculum," said Edward Houghton, dean of the Division of the Arts, which oversees art history. "This change in status acknowledges the achievements of the program and the good work the faculty has accomplished over the years."

The program's new status became official following approval by UC President Richard Atkinson last month. The change gives the program the standing of an independent entity, empowered to administrate itself, hire faculty, and set curriculum and degree requirements.

UCSC's art history curriculum has gained distinction in the field for its far-reaching approach, explained Raoul Birnbaum, professor of art history and chair of the department.

"While we incorporate the studies of painting, sculpture, and architecture conventionally defined by the field of art history, our curricular scope is broader, addressing what we call 'visual culture,'" he said. "The study of visual culture encompasses the entire visual world and examines not only art objects and the contexts in which art is created, but also a full range of issues relating to visuality and visual productions. We've developed a broad-based program that extends to the cultures of Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific Islands."

The program, which graduated 37 students last year, grew in 1996 through a major gift establishing the Patricia and Rowland Rebele Endowed Chair--one of only nine endowed chairs on campus. The chair supports scholars-in-residence programs, art history symposia, and special lectures and colloquia for the campus and community. The first Rebele scholar-in-residence will come to the campus this month. A public lecture is planned and a reception will follow in celebration of the program's new departmental status.

The visiting scholar is distinguished art historian Robert Farris Thompson, the Colonel Trumbull Professor of the History of Art at Yale University. His talk, "Afro-Oceanic Art: Towards a New Century," takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 14, in 75 Social Sciences 2. A pioneering scholar of African and African-Atlantic visual cultures, Thompson is the author of numerous influential works including Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy and Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas. His lecture is free and open to the public. A reception follows.

On Friday, May 15, Thompson will lead a seminar for faculty and advanced students on "Issues in Black Creativity." For more information on Thompson's lecture, call (408) 459-4564.

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