Director’s Note

Co-Directors’ Note 


“We survive institutions through kinship.” 

Wanda Nanibush,  Curator of Indigenous Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario (from a zoom panel on “Curatorial Activism/Decolonial Curating” organized by The Brooklyn Rail, 2/4/2021) 


Institutions, whether cultural or educational, are often complex, opaque entities run via bureaucratic org charts, financial spreadsheets, mission statements and aspirational strategic plans. But such abstract apparatuses are more precarious and unpredictable than their branding campaigns or public historical record may suggest. 


When Covid 19 surfaced in New York City in spring 2020–soon amplified by Black Lives Matter marches and the clarion call for institutional decolonisation–the infrastructural cracks within organizations began to be revealed. Museums, art galleries and universities “pivoted” in an effort to survive, publicly critiquing their internal inequities and promising change. Simultaneously, they urgently adopted an unprecedented set of virtual practices and formats to keep their programming afloat.


Every one of the 15 students in Parsons Fine Arts MFA Class of 2022 experienced the initial shock of shifting from in-person learning to an entirely screen-based pedagogical world. Six of these emerging artists began their studies in Fall 2019, ultimately deciding to defer until a return to in- person classes and workshop facilities was possible. The remaining nine cohort members bravely enrolled in Fall 2020, experiencing their first year of graduate school virtually while  grappling with time differences as they connected through wi-fi networks worldwide. At first zoom grids offered a welcomed means of human connection, a professional diversion in contrast to a solitary reality or a claustrophobic familial environment during the lockdown. Over time, however, these once novel virtual platforms proved increasingly difficult to sustain as lively educational and cultural spaces. People were eager to return to being artists in person, and in common. 


When these two groups finally met one another on The New School campus this past fall–infused by fresh energy within the newly arrived Parsons Fine Arts MFA Class of 2023–the excitement was palpable. It was obvious that the touch of a keyboard could not compete with the touch of a colleague’s hand or a heart-felt hug. The sparkle in eyes peering out from an N 95 mask was no longer dulled or pixelated, and the experience of working alongside other bodies in classrooms, studios, and shops helped everyone appreciate the importance of physical interactions in acts of community-building. The value of unspoken communication and cross-pollination was rediscovered anew. 


Despite the relief of reinhabiting a physical domain, these young artists collectively stepped into an institution that had, for better and worse, transformed. Even though some harbored memories of “the former times”, graduate life at Parsons was now punctuated by rigorous Binx testing protocols, periodic illnesses, quarantines, decreased staffing, and an increased sense of how and why mutual aid mattered. Each student had to shift from being an isolated “me” to becoming the “we” of an emerging community of practice, working adjacently in the fifth floor studios of 25 East 13th Street. By choosing to become part of an international group of critically-minded makers in a rigorous academic program, they demonstrated their faith in evolving both individually and collectively. They pursued their research interests while forging deep relationships within the student/faculty community and beyond. They also learned to acknowledge the multidisciplinary practitioners–both past and present– who have acted as their aesthetic, intellectual and ethical kin. In doing this, they manifested the desire for being heard and seen as artists and thinkers who exist within rich cultural ecosystems


Embodying what contemporary artists do best, the Class of 2022 has not shied away from facing the complex conditions of the day–such as they are. Developing a vital artistic practice over time requires remaining flexible and resilient in the face of ruptures and deficits, as well as joyfully embracing abundance when it appears. Over a two year period, these artists worked hard to learn what was needed in the moment–and how sharing helps us envision and reshape the kind of world worth living in.  


The fruits of these fifteen students’ research practices and determined labor are evident in An Asterism*, the bold and elegant thesis exhibition organized by guest curator Alison Burstein. We applaud the tenacity and impressive accomplishments of this extraordinarily brave cohort. To their credit, they realized that the value of graduate art education is not rooted in access to physical real estate or white walled spaces alone. Instead, we heed what indigenous curator Wanda Nanibush suggests: the essence of any institutional experience lies in the opportunity to build meaningful and sustained kinship systems, within and outside of its borders. Being aware of and valuing such bonds helps us not only survive–but actually thrive–when faced with less than ideal conditions. It guides us to a future that is waiting to be co-created. 


–Lydia Matthews + Lan Thao Lam, Co-Directors, Parsons Fine Arts MFA program

May 9, 2022