If you see a limousine painted like a school bus rolling through your college town this month, it's probably the Bruce High Quality Foundation (BHQF). The New York-based art collective is going cross-country to instigate serious conversations about the future of MFA education at schools around the U.S., from New York to Portland. The group, comprising a fluctuating number of anonymous members, will be modeling its Teach 4 Amerika tour and its educational interventions on pep rallies — "big public events with balloons, confetti, and marching bands," the Bruces reveal over quasi-secret drinks at the Smile, in NoHo.
The group plans to meet with art-school students as well as denizens of alternative spaces that are often shut out of the MFA conversation. "It's to try to get them to get the ball rolling on the less institutional frame for arts education in their area and what they need locally," the Bruces say. "So it's moving away from the idea that we just repeat MFA systems from one place to the next. Because right now they're all pretty much the same."
BHQF notes the paucity, even in New York, of outlets beyond the MFA circuit for critical discussion of artists lucky enough to be working. "It's surprising, considering the density of artists between Manhattan and Brooklyn and Queens, that there are so few filters where these people can go to get any kind of feedback on what they are doing," the Bruces say. "We've been showing consistently for a few years now; we get a lot of exposure. But that doesn't mean we actually talk to someone about what we are doing. It backfires: At a certain point no one wants to say anything critical to you."
You can't say they don't know what they are talking about. Bruce High Quality Foundation previously ran its own DIY art school, the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, in Tribeca. Rita Ackerman, Dan Graham, and David Salle all donated their time as teachers, but a rent increase forced the school out of the original building, and BHQF is now hunting for a new location that can accommodate a combination personal studio and educational space. (The foundation pays the bills with proceeds from art sales.)
Although none of the Bruces have MFAs themselves, they're quick to note serious problems with the system. "The Scull auction of the '70s aligns very well with when we start seeing modern art schools," they explain. "Now they're everywhere, and they cost a lot more, and most of them are just producing more and more people who are qualified to teach in MFA programs. But they're not necessarily producing artists who are actually working."
Worse, students often take out serious loans to embark on a career path that is, to say the least, unpredictable. "We speak at schools frequently, and people usually don't disagree with us, which is sort of interesting," the Bruces say. "You know, you go into a program that costs $40,000 a year, and all the professors, tenured or not, will agree there is no reason for it to cost this much. And the conversation just stops there."
Nato Thompson, chief curator of Creative Time, which is presenting the project, has high hopes for Teach 4 Amerika. "I see it as not only challenging the status quo but asking that people question what is going on," he says. "I think BHQF is using this platform to make it evident that education is a social construct that can be bent, like plastic or metal. It's a form. As art students are trained to shape things, they should also be encouraged to shape the structures that teach them."
Visit the BHQF website for remaining tour dates in Denver, Sante Fe, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland.