University of Nevada, Las Vegas: Department of Art

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas first opened its doors in 1965 as Nevada Southern University, a branch of the University of Nevada, Reno. The Department of Art began its mission by offering service courses for other disciplines with its four faculty members Rita Deanin Abbey, Eric Gronberg, Peter Myer, and Dick Wist. The program, along with the Department of Music, Speech and Theater, was housed in Archie Grant Hall, one of the first buildings on campus, constructed in 1959.

In 1968 the university was granted autonomy under the state's higher education system. The board of regents approved the institution's official name as the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) in 1969, and at that time the department's Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees were approved. Eventually, all of the performing arts programs found permanent locations elsewhere on campus, leaving the Department of Art as the sole occupant of Grant Hall.

New facilities for the rapidly growing program were completed in 1981 and named the Alta Ham Fine Arts Building. The Art faculty had grown to eight by 1987 when the department applied for and received full accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)

Coinciding with UNLV's "Year of the Arts" celebration in 1988, the Nevada Institute for Contemporary Art (NICA) was established with the mission of attracting artists and exhibitions of national significance to UNLV, thereby increasing the visibility of the visual arts in the Las Vegas community. In order to properly showcase these exhibitions, the art gallery was enlarged with the help of a major university benefactor and re-named the Donna Beam Gallery after his daughter, a former UNLV art major who graduated in 1976. Although NICA'S duration as a university organization lasted only three years, its impact was significant and far-reaching.

Another important milestone in 1988 was the establishment of the Master of Fine Arts degree. By that time the faculty had grown to eleven and included specialists in ceramics, drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, and art history. It was launched with only three students and, although still small by comparison, is now considered one of the premier graduate programs in the country. A popular feature of the program is the Visiting Artist Lecture Series, in which nationally acclaimed artists and critics are invited to present a public lecture or workshop and visit with the graduate students on a one-to-one basis. Many of these individuals are selected to teach in the graduate program for a semester. Recent participants in the Visiting Artist Lecture Series include Vito Acconci, Robert Irwin, George Trakas, Siah Armajani, Patrick Nagatani, John Baldessari, Jeff Koons, and Sue Coe.

The number of undergraduate and graduate students has steadily increased over the years. In 2007, the Department of Art educates over 300 majors in the combined Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts programs, with seventeen to twenty students in various stages of the Master of Fine Arts program. The department employs fourteen full-time faculty, ten to twelve adjunct faculty, and two professional staff members with graduate degrees who also teach part-time in the areas of their specialization, gallery practices, and art history.

The department has greatly benefited by a number of dedicated faculty over the years. In addition to the four founding members, the list would include Jim Pink in printmaking and drawing, Bill Leaf in design and drawing, and Michael McCollum in ceramics, who also chaired the department for many years before becoming the first dean of the College of Fine Arts at its creation in 1978.

A significant number of graduates from the program have had distinguished careers in higher education and as practicing artists. A partial list would include Jane Callister, Phillip Argent, Cara Cole, Becky Bogard, Tamara Scronce, Tom Burke, Almund Zigman, Tim Bavington, Gajin Fujita, Sush Machita Gaikotsu, and the Reverend Ethan Acres.

The mission of UNLV's Department of Art is to provide students with a rigorous but well-rounded educational experience in the history, theory, practice, and pedagogy of art. The program offers a full range of courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels in art history, theory and criticism, painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, photography, graphic design, and gallery practice, and is preparing to offer a Master of Arts degree in art history.

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