An experienced curator with a strong track record of higher education leadership, Steven Lam will join CalArts as its next dean of the School of Art. He’ll hold the Jill and Peter Kraus Distinguished Chair in Art as he succeeds longtime dean Tom Lawson in the school’s top academic role. Lam is scheduled to begin July 15, 2022.
“CalArts is one of those rare institutions that continues to hold that complicated space between rigor and generosity,” says Lam, who will arrive from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, British Columbia. “The School of Art’s influence on contemporary cultural production is singular, yet it is also a place where practitioners, designers, and artists realize that their work is bigger themselves.”
In addition, Lam says, “I look forward to supporting an institution that has long stood for intellectual, critical pedagogical exploration, while affirming that the role of design and art is expansive, open, and, at times, controversial and complex. I am also humbled to honor the numerous intergenerational legacies that have made CalArts legendary, be it the influence and afterlives of Feminist Art Program, its devotion to queer practice and experimentalism, the school’s pivotal role in conceptualism and criticism, its nonhierarchal ethos and commitment to social critique, and the not-yet-seen futures that are now being crafted by its mentors and students.”
At Emily Carr, Lam has served as associate vice president and dean of the Jake Kerr Faculty of Graduate Studies. Earlier, he was director and an associate professor at the School of Art + Design at Purchase College, State University of New York, and associate dean of the School of Art at Cooper Union in New York.
Lam’s collaborative leadership style and breadth of experience in higher education and the arts will be key in his work at CalArts, Provost Tracie Costantino says.
“His commitment to students’ development as artists and as engaged contributors to our world is perfectly aligned with our mission,” she adds.
Likewise, Lam brings a worldview and professional skills that will build on the CalArts legacy and lift its mission to new levels of excellence, says Charles Gaines, the School of Art faculty member who chaired the dean search.
“Steven’s selection was made during a very successful search process that yielded an impressive and diverse field of candidates,” Gaines says.
As a curator, Lam has produced projects that address a variety of questions, including the legacy of AIDS activism in contemporary art, the politics and forms of secrecy, and multispecies and ecological encounters. His artistic and curatorial work has been featured in The New York Times, The Brooklyn Rail, Art Forum, Flash Art, Third Text, and other international and academic publications.
Lam received his MFA from the University of California, Irvine, and was a Helena Rubinstein fellow in curatorial studies at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. Originally from Texas, Lam also attended University of Houston and Trinity University in San Antonio.
“I look forward to partnering with Steven as he works with the faculty, staff, and students of the School of Art to envision and realize their aspirations,” Costantino says.
—by Adam Smeltz