At the IDSVA commencement ceremony in Mexico City on January 11, 2020, Dr. Louise Carrie Wales announced plans regarding the formation of the IDSVA Alumni Association. As Dr. Wales addressed the attendees, she congratulated IDSVA’s 2020 graduates and expressed how fortunate she feels to be part of the IDSVA family. Through the support of an alumni association network, this sense of community is one Wales seeks to preserve for IDSVA alums after they have received their diplomas. Here below we transcribe the complete address given by Dr. Louise Wales:
Good afternoon and congratulations to IDSVA’s 2020 graduates. It is an honor to stand before all of you on this wonderful day, in this extraordinary location. We are fortunate to be part of the IDSVA family. I certainly don’t have other relatives who invite me to as many cultural hotspots for sustained conversations about art.
I would like to open my remarks with a quotation from Cesar Chavez, community organizer and activist who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1994 who wisely said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes, and for our own.” Chavez, in these words, expresses IDSVA’s ethos of care quite beautifully and, while we celebrate the achievements of you who are graduating, he reminds us to look outward. Helen Keller expressed this sentiment differently. In her words, “Alone we can do so little. Together, we can do so much.” In a substantial way, these words summarize the reason I stand before you today.
As some of you know, I graduated from IDSVA last January. When I spoke at the Morgan Library, I expressed a peculiar feeling of nostalgia about ‘leaving the bosom’ of IDSVA: its residencies, online discussions, study groups, and many meals among friends. There is the very real sense that we are better together and our work in isolation loses some of its direction and meaning.
Students who attend IDSVA come from every walk of life. We are old, young, multi-racial, culturally diverse and multi-dimensional. As individuals, our identities are difficult to name or pin down. It is as a group that we are a force carrying with it belief that art (in its myriad of manifestations) is a human activity that must not be ignored. And, it is in times like these, that our passion for all that mankind can create for its people must be magnified. The feeling of completion at the end of one’s IDSVA tenure is therefore outweighed by the sense that the real work has only just begun.
Albert Camus believed in the power of artists and writers. He has a helpful insight: “The artist forges himself to others, midway between the beauty he cannot do without and the community he cannot tear himself away from. That is why true artists scorn nothing: They are obliged to understand rather than to judge.”
My suggestion today is that our well-developed sense of community—the one that naturally grows over the course of our rich travels and studies—must be nurtured and propagated beyond our years at IDSVA. To establish such a structure is to allow a place of shared ideas and an ongoing manifestation of care that we, as artists and thinkers, will need. Rather than disappearing alone into our futures, our strength, our message and our potential as ‘artist philosophers’ is magnified with community.
Fortunately for all of us, the notion of an alumni association has received tremendous support from members of the board and others in leadership. Of course, George Smith is a devoted cheerleader (as he is for so many of us) but I also must thank Dr. Paul Armstrong for his depth of experience and wisdom as he has been advising me on the how’s and why’s of such an undertaking. While the concept is in its nascent stages, we must be deliberate in our approach.
Edmund Burke offers some direction when he wrote: “in effect, to follow, not to force the public inclination; to give a direction, a form, a technical dress, and a specific sanction, to the general sense of the community, is the true end of legislature.” So, our goal is to nurture and grow, to listen and to offer a place for our voices to be heard.
In my many conversations with Dr. Christina Barber, we brainstormed potential avenues for a sustained community to exist and the ways it could serve our graduating colleagues while also providing an ongoing resource for current students. Some of these avenues include shared opportunities such as calls for papers or open exhibitions, the chance to hear news and offer words of comfort to those in the throes of the coursework, in essence, to remain stronger together. In the absence of a central campus or physical plant, the work of maintaining these ties must be explicit and conscious. Like any worthwhile endeavor (including the completion of your dissertation), it requires thought and effort. It will, eventually, also ask that we ensure the health of IDSVA’s future in any way we can.
It is clear that we forge connections, as Camus stated so eloquently, both to each other and to the community we inhabit for a short time. We share in our investments of ideas, our affiliations with one another, the meaning in our work… and we actively recognize the positive qualities each of us puts forth in formulating the questions. As we each explore and express all that we so profoundly care about in our work, we put our most vulnerable selves forth.
At a time when some of us may be feeling out of sorts with the greater political world, we must derive a measure of comfort as we look around today and celebrate the varied and colorful tapestry that marks each of IDSVA’s cohorts. We are a remarkable collective of minds and hearts.
Let’s keep this potential alive in a post-IDSVA community—one that looks out for its members while remembering the vibrant and revolutionary program from which our scholarship has emerged, for ourselves, for each other and for the health of this school we all love so very much.
Dr. Wales concluded her remarks with an African proverb that she feels is especially fitting to the aim of creating a future alumni association with the same ethos of care indicative of the IDSVA community which states, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”