CalArts’ Town Hall Focuses on Vermont College of Fine Arts Affiliation

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On Thursday, April 11, members of the CalArts community gathered in the Bijou for the Spring Institute Town Hall to learn more about the Institute’s newly formed long-term affiliation with Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), the only college in the US devoted entirely to graduate fine arts education. Speaking on the town hall panel were CalArts President Ravi S. Rajan, VCFA Interim President Andrew Ramsammy, and CalArts Board Chair Charmaine Jefferson, who emphasized the arts’ significance in democracy, and the importance of art schools being able to serve varied student demographics.

“There isn’t a walk of life that the arts don’t attach to,” said Jefferson, who likened VCFA to a new “sibling” of the Institute with shared values and advocates for the arts. Rajan and Ramsammy also echoed the necessity and role of arts institutions as bastions of freedom of expression.

Based in Montpelier, Vermont, VCFA opened its doors in 2008 to those seeking a low-residency art education. The school’s unique model encompasses MFA programs in film, graphic design, music composition, visual art, writing, and writing for children and young adults (the college also offers non-degree programs). The affiliation builds upon VCFA’s and CalArts’ relationship, with various CalArts alums and faculty having previously taught at VCFA. 

While CalArts will formally serve as the “parent” organization and VCFA as its subsidiary, the latter will retain its academic autonomy and mission, as well its faculty, board, and administrative offices in Montpelier, per VCFA’s announcement. VCFA’s residential programming has taken place at Colorado College since its academic buildings were sold two years ago, and will have its first residency at CalArts in January 2025. Subsequent residencies will be held exclusively at the Institute.

“Part of the CalArts community experience is being physically part of the community here in Valencia, but there are many artists whose circumstances don’t allow them to do that,” Rajan shared in an interview with 24700. “VCFA provides a dramatically different format for graduate study for artists who can’t sequester themselves from society for two to three years, move to California or anywhere else, yet still want to experience that sort of intellectual rigor and artmaking.”

While VCFA and CalArts share a similar ethos, the schools serve distinctly different demographics. Ramsammy noted that many of their students are caretakers in their community, have disabilities, or are otherwise unable to dedicate several years’ time to their studies on a physical campus due to their circumstances. Though California is the only state that does not participate in the National Council for State Authorization (NC-SARA), the affiliation with VCFA allows the low-residency format to continue, and now provides opportunities for VCFA students to leverage a space specifically created for artists. 

The affiliation also affords VCFA a more certain future, averting the fate unfortunately shared by many of their peers in the Northeast; last week, Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, announced its permanent closure after nearly 90 years. The dispiriting trend reflects a decline in enrollment nationwide in recent years, as well as the increasingly challenging economics of running independent schools has led to the shuttering of several arts and liberal arts colleges throughout the US. 

“What is at risk if schools like VCFA, of our size, don’t continue is that there will be an increasingly challenging space for students to find access to this type of art education, and we know that our type of art education is unique,” Ramsammy told 24700 during a recent interview. “We also know that the types of artists that we produce are also under attack, and we need to both preserve it from an educational perspective, but also from an institutional perspective, so that there are places in which up-and-coming artists—especially at the MFA level—can find a school that continues to remain in business. The economics of running our schools are challenged, and we’re also seeing additional challenges and pressure from a world in which freedom of voice and freedom of expression is challenged even more. It makes the work that we do even more meaningful to the communities and to the students that we serve.” 

The affiliation between CalArts and VCFA will be formalized on July 1, 2024, pending approval from the requisite accrediting bodies and both schools’ boards of trustees. 

Learn more about the affiliation at

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PUBLISHED BY Taya Zoormandan

As digital content and social media producer, Taya enjoys lifting up the stories and accomplishments of CalArts' students, alums, and faculty. She fancies herself a visual artist but is really more of an overzealous collector of art supplies.

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24700 is CalArts‘ online space dedicated to sharing news and work of the larger CalArts community from around the world. The news site captures stories of the exploration of new forms and expressions in the arts by our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

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