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Mills’ Art Fee Limits Class Accessibility


As the fall semester comes to an end, Mills college students are beginning to enroll in their spring semester classes. Some students, however, are feeling apprehensive about enrolling themselves in some of the studio art classes.

This is because a majority of studio art classes at Mills requires an additional $200 fee, which makes the art classes offered inaccessible to some students.

The art and visual culture department at Mills hosts a diverse range of classes to accommodate the different interests of its students.

“As a department, we build on a foundation on what we call ‘conceptual practice,’” said Catherine Wagner, a Nancy Cook Endowed Chair and department head of art and visual culture at Mills.

The term conceptual practice is referring to the art department’s goal of engagement through a political, social and environmental context. The art department classes focus on creating foundational techniques in addition to challenging students to be intentional about their concepts and themes that appear in their work.

An article in the Huffington Post, Study Says Making Art Reduces Stress, Even If You Suck At It, reports that “45 minutes of creative activity significantly lessens stress in the body, regardless of artistic experience or talent.”

The article reveals how art can be a way to cope with stress.

“There is a misconception in the world about what is necessary, and people know that medicine, law and social science is necessary,” Wagner said, “but people don’t recognize that some of the most important and meaningful experiences of their lives generally comes from a great piece of literature, a great piece of music, visual art, something from that creative pathway. And I think it’s paramount to leading a complete and total life.”

According to Wagner, the studio fee, or also known as the “lab fee,” has always been in place. The fee covers the materials a student needs for the art classes.

“Clearly [the lab fee] has increased as time has gone by, because materials become more expensive,” Wagner said.

Some art schools across the Bay Area have similar fees apart from the tuition. According to a student admission representative for the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, the university has a course fee ranging from $100–400, along with a supply fee which ranges from $100–200.

While the cost of supplies increased over the years, students have vocalized their dissatisfaction with the lab fee.

“I am not happy that I have to pay an additional fee for a class, I am paying tuition already,” said Imani Gibbs, a freshman at Mills College who enrolled in a photography class for the spring semester.

With the practice of visual arts becoming more expensive with the rise in price of materials, students are hindered from being able to experience artistic expression. The lab fee makes the art classes less accessible to low-income students, making the practice of art a privilege rather than a right. In the presence of the fee, the art and visual culture department doesn’t want students to feel discouraged.

“I don’t want the lab fee to be a block for anybody who would really want to take the course,” Wagner said. “Anybody who feels that they can’t take the course because the fee is too expensive, talk to the professor. I’d say in the majority of the cases, there has been some special compensation made for a student to be able to take that [class] with maybe having that lab fee waived.”