• VCFA sees a change in course
    By Amy Ash Nixon
     | May 05,2014

    MONTPELIER — The Vermont College of Fine Arts has acquired a full-time graduate-level writing program from the University of Southern California and will bring the program to the low-residency fine arts college here this year. Adding the graduate residential program to the low-residency college marks a change of course for the college, which has to this point not been home to full-time residential students.

    The program is expected to bring up to 25 students to the campus full-time with the fall semester, the first semester the program will be based at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, said VCFA President Thomas Greene on Sunday.

    “This is an important story for central Vermont,” said Greene. “Five years ago, the Vermont College of Fine Arts became the first new college in Vermont in a generation. I led the effort to start the college. At that point in time there was a real possibility that the campus, which had been in use since 1868, could close down.”

    Instead, leading the way to forming the new arts college, Greene said three nationally accredited Master of Fine Arts low-residency programs were brought together here in Montpelier on the old historic college campus, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts was born.

    The campus had always been used as an educational institution, explained Greene, saying, “It’s gone through a number of iterations and colleges over time. But it was not locally owned and managed until the Vermont College of Fine Arts began.”

    Since that time, the college has charted an “ambitious plan,” said Greene, and has “grown faster than any other college in Vermont,” going in five years’ time from 230 to 380 students. “We’ve gone from a $5 million annual operating budget to a budget in excess of $10 million,” he said.

    Of the new graduate on-campus writing program coming to the college this fall, Greene said, “What’s happening now is really the next step for us, moving into graduate residential education. It potentially is a big expansion,” he said of the new program’s potential. “We have a broad and ambitious plan to grow to 700 to 800 students over a longer period of time, but adding a residential graduate college is a significant expansion from where we are now,” he said. The low-residency programs have students on campus twice a year for 10 day blocks of time each semester, noted Greene.

    The new program, the School of Writing and Publishing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, will be headed by Trinie Dalton, a well-known writer and teacher who is currently on the faculty of both VCFA and USC. When at USC, the program was called the Master of Professional Writing.

    The college, with its low-residency graduate arts programs now in place, is in use about 180 days of the year, but with the new graduate program launching this fall, it will see year-round campus life, said Greene. “We’ll have year-round graduate students moving to Montpelier, eating and shopping at the restaurants and bars,” he said.

    From the start-up number of about 25 students in the new residential program, Greene said the college hopes to see that number increase in just a few years to around 200 students. “We’re hoping to grow it pretty quickly,” he said. “It’s a writing program, and it’s also going to have a publishing focus and screen writing, playwriting, different media, creative non-fiction, poetry,” said Greene, “Part of the impetus for this is that we already enjoy a significant reputation nationally in the writing field.” The college has had faculty and graduates chosen as finalists for the National Book Award every year since forming, “which is pretty amazing,” stressed Greene.

    The college’s writing for children and young adults program, noted Greene, is referred to as “the Harvard of its kind.”

    Mayor John Hollar, in the college’s news release announcing the new program, said the addition of the graduate program here was good news for the college and the capitol city. “VCFA has done amazing work in a short period of time to make the college a national leader in fine arts education,” he said. “This new program will bring excitement to the campus and will contribute to Montpelier’s growing and vibrant arts scene.”

    A full-time director will oversee the program and the college will add about three staff for the new program, and will, as enrollment grows, expand other staff such as the library, security and other services, to accommodate the residential component. “Initially we’ll sort of ramp it up as it grows,” he said. The faculty will be a combination of faculty from the school’s low-residency writing program and the USC writing program being moved here, said Greene.

    One instructor coming to Montpelier is Janet Fitch, the author of “White Oleander,” which was also made into a movie.

    “This was a logical next step for us,” said Greene in a news release in recent days. “This furthers our mission as a national center for education in the arts, allowing us to offer a full-immersion experience for a new cohort of graduate writing students.”

    He referred to the program as being “industry-forward” and said it will help students begin professional careers in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, writing for stage and screen, or new media. He added that the curriculum will also see students build a network with writers, editors and publishers “dedicated to the art and business of literature.”

    The new program brings two-year residential graduate students to the historic Vermont campus for the first time in the school’s history.

    Kevin Ellis, a spokesman for VCFA, said of the change, “It is a great story for VCFA and Montpelier. It puts VCFA in a whole new class of writing programs nationally and turns it into a great economic engine for Montpelier.”At present, the college offers a portfolio of low-residency, highly ranked Master of Fine Arts degree programs, where students come to campus for several weeklong intensive workshops each academic year.

    “We believe VCFA will offer a wonderful new home for the [USC] program while also providing ongoing recognition for the degree’s value,” said Steven Lamy, a vice dean for academic programs at USC, in a written statement. The California college has been offering a Master of Professional Writing degree since 1971.

    This year, the Vermont College of Fine Arts was ranked as one of the top three low-residency MFA programs in the country by Poets and Writers magazine.

    For more information, visit www.vcfa.edu. The college is accepting applications for the new program.

    @Tagline:amy.nixon @timesargus.com

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