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Vermont College of Fine Arts to Move Residencies to Colorado College


Published June 16, 2022 at 8:29 p.m.
Updated June 22, 2022 at 10:07 a.m.

Vermont College of Fine Arts campus - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Vermont College of Fine Arts campus

Updated on Tuesday, June 21, 2022 at 1:30 p.m.

Vermont College of Fine Arts
will keep its name even as it moves across the country to another college campus.

Based in Montpelier, VCFA is a low-residency college founded in 2008, that offers master’s degrees in writing and other arts-related fields. Starting in July 2023, the school's summer residencies will be held at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo., according to VCFA president Leslie Ward. The college will keep its name, and the administration will remain at College Hall in Montpelier .

The college announced its decision to move its residencies on Wednesday on its website. VTDigger first reported the news.

Ward cited two primary factors behind the move. The first is that convening at Colorado College will allow students and faculty in each of  VCFA's six degree-granting fields to be on campus simultaneously. Space limitations on the Montpelier campus has forced VCFA to hold its residencies “sequentially,” one program at a time, she said.

“We really believe and know that the boundaries between disciplines have been blurring for years,” Ward said, and students will be “interested in and inspired by” collaboration with students and faculty who specialize in other fields.

Vermont College of Fine Arts campus - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Vermont College of Fine Arts campus
“We have a world-class faculty,” Ward said. “It’s our biggest and most wonderful asset. And we don’t get to leverage the value of that across all our students because we never have everybody here as a whole.”

The second reason is that for nine months a year most of the college’s 11 buildings are empty, Ward said. The money spent to maintain a mostly unused campus can be used for other purposes, she said, including scholarships, academic programming and curriculum development, she said.

“It really became a strategic decision of matching our investment with the things that really enrich our students,” Ward said.

Nearly 100 alumni of Vermont College of Fine Arts sent a letter to the board of trustees Tuesday morning objecting to the college’s decision to leave Montpelier and move to Colorado. In the letter, 95 VCFA alumni express their “profound disappointment in, and strong objection to, the sudden decision to move residency activities to the campus of Colorado College, and further, to only offer in person residencies once per year.”

The group also writes that it’s concerned about how the decision was made and communicated, which “seem to directly violate VCFA’s own governance policy.” (The letter is attached at the end of this post.)

Michael Goldstein, chair of the board of trustees, told Seven Days that the board’s unanimous decision to lease space from Colorado College was made after “very, very long and careful consideration.” Board members are in agreement that this “particular action is necessary and appropriate to maintain the academic integrity of the institution,” Goldstein said, “and to enable it to go forward with its primary mission of being a premier written and visual and performing arts institution.”

Calling Tuesday’s letter “very articulate and passionate,” Goldstein said he would expect no less from VCFA alumni.

“Our graduates don’t write screeds, they write literature,” he said. He and his colleagues will have a “full and open conversation” about the letter, Goldstein said.

But, he added, there is nothing on a first reading that would cause him to think VCFA should “reverse course.”

VCFA has six master’s degree programs in fields including writing, writing for children and young adults, visual art, and music composition. Its roughly 350 students participate in five residencies over the course of their two-year master's programs. Residencies are seven to 10 days long.

The Montpelier campus has been home to numerous schools since its founding in 1868 as Vermont Conference Seminary, later called Montpelier Seminary, according to VCFA's website. Novelist Thomas Christopher Greene, who recently opened Hugo’s Bar and Grill in Montpelier, is VCFA’s founding president. The effort to open the college after its predecessor, Union Institute & University, put it on the market in 2006, involved raising $14 million, Greene said.

“This is devastating to the city of Montpelier; it’s devastating to the faculty, staff and alumni,” Greene said of the relocation to Colorado College.  “And it’s particularly devastating to all of us who worked so hard in 2006 to 2008 to prevent this exact same thing from happening. That is: saving this historic campus that had been in continuous educational use since 1868.”

VCFA is working with a Burlington-based real estate consulting firm, White + Burke, to determine future plans for the campus, which could mean selling or leasing many of its buildings. The school is considering “practical uses" that will also be “an incredible asset to the Montpelier community,” according to Ward.

Vermont College of Fine Arts campus - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Vermont College of Fine Arts campus
“This is a beautiful property,” she said. “We are the stewards of it, and we take that really seriously. We have a vested interest in the way these buildings are developed.”

David White, founder of the consulting firm, is a former director of community development for the city of Montpelier. Noting that it's early in the process of determining new uses for the college-owned buildings, White emphasized that "one of the important steps is for us and the college to listen to the community and hear what people are interested in." 

A goal of the college is to ensure that plans for the campus fit in with the neighborhood and "enhance the character of the community," White said. Housing is a possibility, he noted.

"Clearly, one of the predominant [ideas] that comes right to mind is residential uses," White said, adding that possibilities include senior housing, multifamily housing and condominiums. He said VCFA already leases space in its buildings to other organizations.

"I think right now the college is open to anything that makes sense," White said. "Because their educational model doesn't require this physical plant, the challenge here is to figure out what kinds of uses are appropriate."

Ward, who succeeded Greene as president, has run the college since 2019.  She's a former trustee with an MBA from Harvard University and a master's degree in writing from VCFA, according to the college website. She said she's committed to “bringing [VCFA] to its next iteration.”

“Our roots and our name are in Vermont,” Ward said. “We are not considering any rebranding at this point.”
See related PDF Open_Letter.pdf

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