Our program at Black Hawk College, Art & Visual Communication, recently received the devastating news that two of our four full-time faculty positions will be cut. Kyle Petersen teaches new media and had just created a photography certificate unique to the western-Illinois region. Melissa Hebert-Johnson teaches full sections of art history every semester and several innovative online sections of art history and art appreciation. She is also department chair. Both faculty are hailed by our students as not only great teachers, but as having strong, positive impact on their lives in general. The justification that has been given is that a consultant recommended dismantling our AAS in Visual Communication and the Art Technology one-year certificate. We have not been granted access to this report.

As a small program in a community college, we open the door to many who might not otherwise have the opportunity to study art. Our program has a strong foundation in basic design principles and skills that can be applied by those pursuing a degree in fine arts. The majority of our students couple that with computer technology in order to pursue careers related to graphic design, Web graphics, animation, digital photography, and video – skills learned through the AAS and Certificate programs. We have many students who come to us to retrain after a job loss, or to upgrade their skills for a current position. We have always been committed to providing a quality education for students from all walks of life. To view some student work, visit our blog: BHCArt.com.

What disappoints us most is that the opportunity for affordable training and education will be denied to so many in our community. We have several military students and veterans who are in the AAS and Certificate programs on the G.I. Bill. We have single parents working to provide for their families and modeling for their children that a college degree is attainable. Our students leave BHC ready for entry-level graphic-design or photography work, or BA, BFA, or MFA programs. They develop strong portfolios that lead to multiple scholarship offers from colleges and universities. Our students are then able to transfer to institutions that they otherwise would not be able to afford.

Not to brag (well, maybe a little), but our students who transfer often report back to us with pride that they are among the best-prepared of their upper-division classmates. And though it sounds so, it is not an exaggeration to say we have saved lives in this department. Students who have no other creative outlet come to their BHC art classes to be built up while the rest of the world tries to tear them down.

Our students have begun a petition on Change.org protesting these planned cuts. To date, there are 763 signatures. We are reaching out to alumni, employers, artists, and you to share your stories about the impact of our program and its potential loss. On Thursday, February 23, the Board of Trustees will decide the fate of these faculty and our programs. We encourage you, if you are so inclined, to write a letter of support to BHC board members or to attend the February 23 meeting.

As our students like to say, “Art matters.”

Art & Visual Communication Faculty Members:
Melissa Hebert-Johnson
David Murray
Kyle Petersen
Zaiga Thorson