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Art education—from two perspectives

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Elizabeth Howland, center, shows off the gantry she designed and built to Founding Dean Xavier Costa, left, and SMFA President Christopher Bratton, right. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

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For her senior thesis, studio art stu­dent Eliz­a­beth How­land wanted to create a stop-​​motion film that focused on her inter­pre­ta­tion of tran­si­tion and iden­tity. But she wasn’t sure she had the tools to make the film she envisioned.

“I wanted to be able to have motion in my shots, which is a tech­nical lim­i­ta­tion of stop motion for most rigs,” said How­land. “The existing tech­niques are very constraining.”

Instead of giving in to those con­straints, How­land designed and built a rig of her own: A five-​​axis motion-​​control camera gantry, which allowed her to incor­po­rate motion into a short film. Both the rig and the film were on dis­play last month in Northeastern’s Gallery 360 as part of a thesis exhi­bi­tion called “Aug­men­ta­tion and Atrophy,” which also included the work of class­mates Amanda Brack and Juliana Valle.

The exhi­bi­tion, enti­tled “Aug­men­ta­tion and Aptrophy,” show­cased a wide range of artistic dis­ci­plines. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

How­land and Valle grad­u­ated last winter with a bach­elor of fine arts degree through a joint pro­gram offered by Northeastern’s Col­lege of Arts, Media, and Design and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Brack grad­u­ated from the joint pro­gram at Tufts University.

“That kind of work is exactly what we like to see from the col­lab­o­ra­tion between these two pro­grams,” said Nathan Felde, chair of Northeastern’s Depart­ment of Art + Design. “When I think of the future for this rela­tion­ship, I see tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ties for our stu­dents to look at inter­dis­ci­pli­nary pos­si­bil­i­ties and emerging prac­tices, some of which will be invented by these stu­dents as they collaborate.”

The joint BFA pro­gram between North­eastern and the SMFA was estab­lished in 2007, pro­duced its first grad­u­ates last year, and cur­rently enrolls about 20 stu­dents. It con­sists of 84 credit hours of art courses at the SMFA, 20 credit hours of art and design his­tory through Northeastern’s core liberal-​​arts cur­riculum, and 16 credit hours of elec­tive courses. The joint nature of the pro­gram means that stu­dents can sup­ple­ment their tra­di­tional studio art classes with courses from a range of dis­ci­plines, from dig­ital ani­ma­tion to mechan­ical engineering.

The pro­gram enabled Valle to study art and business—a dis­ci­pline not often avail­able to fine-​​arts stu­dents. “North­eastern offered that, so it was per­fect,” said Valle, a native of São Paulo, Brazil.

Through the part­ner­ship, North­eastern and the SMFA have com­bined their efforts to expose stu­dents to the art world’s latest devel­op­ments through vis­iting fac­ulty, work­shops, and lec­tures by famous artists such as pho­tog­ra­pher William Wegman. The part­ner­ship also gives stu­dents the chance to approach their art edu­ca­tion from two dif­ferent angles.

“That rare com­bi­na­tion gives our stu­dents access to courses and dis­ci­plines that would be dif­fi­cult to attain at such a great con­ve­nience and at such a high quality any­where else,” Felde said. “Here, you just have to walk across the street.”

How­land agreed. “I think I’ve hugely ben­e­fited from get­ting both sides,” she said. “North­eastern pro­vides a strong aca­d­emic course load and access to the resources of a big uni­ver­sity, and the SMFA gives you the tra­di­tional art school curriculum.”