Artist and ed­u­ca­tor Jeffrey Morin wants to make art school more ac­ces­si­ble for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.


Q&A with MIAD Pres­i­dent Jeffrey Morin, who knows first­hand how hard it can be for first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege stu­dents to suc­ceed

In the three and a half years since Jeffrey Morin be­came pres­i­dent of the Mil­wau­kee In­sti­tute of Art and De­sign, the col­lege’s en­roll­ment num­bers have risen steadily, even as univer­sity en­roll­ment de­clined na­tion­ally. And nearly half of MIAD’s fresh­man class is made up of first-gen­er­a­tion stu­dents, like Morin him­self, who grew up in a re­mote Maine town where col­lege is, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, too far away for many res­i­dents.

Morin’s par­ents ran a small gas sta­tion near the Cana­dian bor­der. Morin knew from a young age that he wanted to teach art, and he un­der­stood that he’d need to leave his home and en­roll in a univer­sity to re­al­ize that dream.

To­day, Morin holds a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from Tem­ple Univer­sity and two ad­vanced de­grees from UW-Madi­son. He also main­tains an art prac­tice of his own – work­ing on paint­ings, draw­ings and art books in ad­di­tion to over­see­ing MIAD’s ad­min­is­tra­tive op­er­a­tions. Un­der his watch, the univer­sity has been rec­og­nized as a top de­sign school.

We re­cently sat down with Morin to chat about Mil­wau­kee’s art scene and the value of higher ed­u­ca­tion.

Did your fam­ily en­cour­age you to pur­sue art?

My brother and I were the first mem­bers of my im­me­di­ate fam­ily to grad­u­ate from high school. And I was the first in my fam­ily to go off to col­lege. For a lot of rea­sons, my par­ents were not ini­tially sup­port­ive of my stud­ies. I think they were afraid that I would be­come such a dif­fer­ent per­son that I would no longer fit in the fam­ily, and they were sus­pi­cious of the ap­pli­ca­tion process. I re­ceived a full, four-year schol­ar­ship, and they could not un­der­stand why an in­sti­tu­tion would give some­one four years of free tu­ition – the idea of get­ting a schol­ar­ship was just so for­eign to them.

What do you think of the stereo­type that art schools are pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive?

When I in­tro­duce peo­ple to MIAD, I as­sume that that’s their pre­con­ceived no­tion: It’s pri­vate, it’s non­profit, it’s in­de­pen­dent, it has a high pub­lished tu­ition. What peo­ple don’t re­al­ize is that 44 per­cent of our stu­dents are Pell-el­i­gi­ble, which means they come from lower-in­come back­grounds. So we have a fairly high level of need, and we work very hard to meet that need. About 25 per­cent of our stu­dents are first gen­er­a­tion. And this year, 38 per­cent of the in­com­ing stu­dents iden­tify as peo­ple of color.

A col­lege ed­u­ca­tion moves one up and out. To me, that’s cen­tral to the mis­sion of this school. And when I look at the de­mo­graph­ics of the stu­dents that we at­tract, that’s what I think of. We’re one of the top three art schools in the coun­try when it comes to mov­ing grad­u­ates from low-in­come back­grounds to up­per-mid­dle-class jobs.

Many Amer­i­cans worry that au­to­ma­tion will elim­i­nate jobs. Do you think that cre­ative ca­reers are more or less ro­bot-proof than most?

The process of mak­ing things is be­ing au­to­mated. The process of de­sign­ing things is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to au­to­mate. So I feel con­fi­dent that the peo­ple we ed­u­cate here are work­ing in a sec­tor that’s se­cure.


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