by Emily Richardson, Lang ’14

The New School Then and Now: Where it All Fits

As far as approaching this information holistically in terms of the history of The New School, the 1960s was a pivotal point in moving from the original intentions of the school towards the institutional machine we have today. Therefore the main mode in which The New School seems to have applied their founding principles is through their content–what they teach, who teaches, and who comes in to give talks. The intent that founded the school was focused on being an alternative to mainstream education; The New School wanted to be “a place where a more free, more egalitarian, more tolerant, and more rational society could be imagined and furthered by disciplined critical inquiry” (Katznelson, 2008, 5). It was imagining what can be done by examining the contexts that we live in. Furthermore, a school for social research should train its students “to think hard and straight, and … have the courage, the flexibility, and the alertness to look a disagreeable and changing reality in the face” (Croly, 1918, 169). No matter what, the student emerging from The New School should have a hyper-awareness and staunch awareness of the subtleties in life that lead to specific social messages/ideologies. A student from The New School must also be able to apply their education somewhere else. For example an ex-student, working for a huge company, set up an exhibition with The New School, which was successful and led to other exhibitions. So a former student applying skills within the field improved the school. And just how much influence did she have? Was she the initial inspiration for major exhibitions of faculty work?

The Value of Student Opinion

It may be stated that New School students are encouraged to organize and take action, especially as it relates to how the school is run. In January 1963, Dean Birenbaum promoted a student letter written by Samuel J. Marantz to Julian Levi. Putting the submission of this letter within the broader context of the administrative shifts in the New School Art department, it was at a time when the Dean’s office was eagerly accepting new ideas. The letter came from student Samuel J. Marantz and was addressed to Henry David on January 2. He described his own experience as a pupil in a sculpture class taught by Bruno Lucchesi, and then gives suggestions for improvements of future sculpture classes.

Marantz began with informing David that he had been resisting registration in any of the sculpture classes due to the “woefully lacking” facilities which were such a turn off that even the instructors who “were leading and well-recognized artists” were not enough to entice him. The students, the teachers, the works, the ideals, all could be perfect. However, if the space is inadequate, the students just will not register. Alas, one professor was enough to tempt Marantz into a class, Bruno Lucchesi. However, the structure of the class was bothersome as he was in a classroom environment with others at a cripplingly lower level than him. Classes would become a confused negotiation between the more advanced students and the totally introductory students. Marantz was also one of the only students in his class to have come prepared. There was no mention of any required materials in the course descriptions. There was also only one room for all sculpture classes, and this space was way too small. The space issues included a lack of lockers for every student, so that some had lockers and others did not, and not enough shelf space for the storage of art work. If there was not enough shelf space for even one class, then imagine what it was like when all of the sculpture classes in the Art department were all stuck with that one shelf space.

Then Marantz offers some recommendations based on his experience in Lucchesi’s class. Therefore his recommendations were such as giving advance notice to students about materials necessary for their classes, making more space for sculpture classes, providing lockers for each student, providing more shelf storage for students’ work, providing instructors with a chest of basic hand tools for assisting students in class, and providing a live model for each session. Regardless of the discrepancies in the organization of the text, Marantz found Lucchesi to be “a skilled and imaginative instructor, who by his warmth, infinite patience and constant encouragement, dispelled the frustrations and quick discouragement that come to many students pursuing [sculpture].” His statement gives us clues into what was considered valuable in a New School Art teacher during the 1960s. It appeared that 1960s New School art students wanted their instructors to be kind, personable, possessive of a unique vision, and patiently pushy.

Further correspondences throughout the Art Workshops faculty reveal the importance that Marantz’s opinion was given by the administration. First, Henry David responded to Marantz on January 28 of 1963 (six days after Marantz’s own letter was dated) stating that he was “surprised to learn that instructors have been supplementing the fees the models receive out of their own pockets.” Models were not even getting paid the standard fee, and the instructors would compensate the models themselves rather than let them work for substandard pay. Just a response today is seen as more than enough from a higher-up, but then it goes a step further when his letter gets passed around the faculty. A memo from R. DeMaria on March 1 was sent to Birenbaum regarding keeping a copy of Marantz’s letter for use in revising future class descriptions. A copy was to go into a folder being made titled “adjustments and reminders” for the fall Bulletin. Not only was the Art department administration collecting thoughts, they were searching for a basis on which to structure themselves around. [B. 1, F. Art Workshops, NSPE Executive Dean’s files, NSA.]

Formation of the Arts Bulletin

How would The New School Art Workshops represent themselves to perspective students? Marantz’s letter shows a problem with their representation in 1963, and another document states a faculty member’s similar concern around the same time. This problem is that classes were being advertised for all students at all skill levels. In 1963, a letter from Dean Birenbaum to Julian Levi addressed criticisms of the class descriptions. Birenbaum suggested that “perhaps a more sensible description of the art workshop offerings [could] be devised” since there was confusion among the students trying to register with discombobulated class descriptions. Levi was also encouraged to discuss solutions for these issues with Austill.

In the Art Workshops folder, the only distributed course-description catalogue to be found was the Art Bulletin for the Summer 1967 semester. However, correspondences that were found show the evolution that the Art Bulletins took over the course of the decade. Apparently, the course descriptions in the early 1960s were a bit of a mess. As Marantz’s letter pointed out the old course offerings used to be catered to perspective students of all skill levels, and would not inform students of the necessary materials to be brought to class.

The issue was first addressed, as evidenced by the records we encountered, in 1963, and we did not see proof of this issue being resolved until 1967. What pressured them to actually change? While we may not know that, we can take a look at the improvements made to the 1967 Summer Art Workshops Bulletin. (See Catalogs in the New School’s Digital Archives.)

A Happening in Music and A Happening in Film

Compensation seems to have been an issue in the 1960s. There was the issue of better compensating models, and then in 1965, the New School was dealing with issues of paying royalties to musicians for music they use educationally. The ASCAP (or the Society of composers, Authors, and Publishers) dealt with Acting Dean Austill, and showed the school’s compliance in compensation with a letter of thanks. Artists were paid for the music used, and The New School entered into a license agreement for one year. Frank Wigglesworth, chairman of the music department, was in contact regarding this issue with Gene Bruck of ASCAP. It was a good thing for the school to comply because Buck later wrote an article about compensation for musicians which, resulted in positive, rather than negative, publicity for the school. [B. 1, F. ASCAP, NSPE Executive Dean’s files, NSA.]

Another happening in the Dean’s office in the 1960s was more of a sort-of-happening. I am referring to a film festival that was proposed by an outside artist, accepted by the Dean, and then mysteriously correspondence dropped. The festival never happened. This festival-to-be was proposed by Madeline Tourtelot of Creative Films Studios in 1962. Madeline got into contact with Dean William Birenbaum, reminding him of interest he expressed to her in person concerning participation in the festival. She attached a portfolio of her work, which included some films. From there Sylvia Spencer took up the correspondence with Dean Birenbaum, and made a proposal for the festival to take place in 1964. However, the last record in the folder containing documents about this festival stopped at a letter from Dean Birenbaum to Sylvia Spencer asking what happened with the idea of the festival. This question indicates that the festival never happened, and all communication from there ceased. What happened? We might never know. [B. 1, F. Art Film Festival, NSPE Executive Dean’s files, NSA.]

While not particularly musical or cinematic, The New School had a relationship with the Eastern Division of the American Society for Aesthetics. This society would hold their meetings in the 66 west 12th street building. Admittance was free, and attendees were welcome to bring guests. Professors were also welcomed to bring their students (whole classes) to the meetings. Julius Portnoy was dealing with a school in the midst of change, initially corresponding with Dean Birenbaum and then later with Dean Austill. Not only does the continuation of the meetings signal a smooth transition of power, but it also shows that the relationship between institutions was valued enough to be lasting. Julius Portnoy was with Brooklyn College at this time, and they were seeking facilities at The New School because their own were inadequate. This also shows that The New School was cooperative with other educational institutions in the city. [B. 1, F. Aesthetics, Am. Society for, NSPE Executive Dean’s files, NSA.]