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“New Genres” begins to take shape

Visiting professor Amy Franceschini and ceramics professor Michael Swaine are developing a new focus within the Art Department to replace the Ceramics department. As of now, the focus is called New Genres, but the title is not official.

(Jen Mac Ramos)
(Jen Mac Ramos)

According to Franceschini, who was hired by the college to develop the new focus, the goal of New Genres is to create a non-traditional space that welcomes local artists to the Mills Art Center while incorporating different disciplines, such as cooking and dance, into new art classes.

“This used to be the Ceramics department. The school wanted it to be something else, not a clear definition,” Franceschini said. “I’m slowly transforming the space into something more like social practice, but I’m not going to call it social practice for a while. We don’t know what we’re going to call it.”

New Genres began this semester and is an ongoing project. New classes taught by visiting artists will be offered starting next semester.

Franceschini is renovating the art center in order to cater to different social art practices, which are more activity-based than traditional practices. According to Francheschini, over the next year they plan to build a mobile bread oven and a kitchen.

“I would say the thing that defines how we imagine this space is a living, breathing, active…laboratory” Franceschini said.

Nadja Miller, a second year graduate student and Francheschini’s teaching assistant is excited about the changes.

“I think it’s an exciting time for Mills to be branching out with the new department, following the California College of the Arts,” Miller said. “They have a New Genres Department, so I think it’s good that we have one now, to stay current as an art department.”

According to Franceschini, funding for these conversions will come from start-up funds provided from the school, but she declined to comment on any specifics.

“There’s some funding but not enough for our dreams,” Franceschini said. “Eventually it will germinate.”

To get the department going, Franceschini has invited local artists to visit the campus and incorporate their practices  into the classroom. One of the visitors, Leif Hedendal, is a chef helping Franceschini design the kitchen space that will be added into the Art Center on campus. He has also been invited to teach a class next semester.

Hedendal is already holding monthly meetings with local artists, called Dinner Discussions, to speak about current projects. According to Hedendal, the meetings have been more sporadic as of recently.

He will be collaborating with Franceschini on ways to teach his class next semester.

“I’m curious about being involved in the transformation of the department,” Hedendal said.

Another visiting artist, dancer Paul Benny, came to visit the campus on Feb. 12 and incorporated his dance background into Swaine’s ceramics class with the goal of encouraging students to utilize the entire space to gain inspiration for their pieces. He led the class on a silent walk through campus in a single file line. The objective was to quickly create an object with clay, whoever was in front of the line lead the group and stopped wherever they felt their object belonged and left it there. After they put their object where they saw fit, they moved to the back of the line. This process was repeated until everyone placed their object somewhere on campus.

“There’s a whole path of clay objects around Mills right now,” Benny said.

Kate Rhoades, a first year MFA student, looks forward to the challenges that the New Genres department is going to bring.

“Mills didn’t have much of a non-traditional art representation before Amy and Michael got here,” Rhoades said. “It’s good to have that if you’re trying to become a contemporary artist.”