by Alyssa Melillo and Liz Kaempf
When Mindy Mosher changed her major from computer science to studio art with a minor in digital arts, she didn’t expect to trade in the textbook expenses to which we are accustomed for costly, mandatory art supplies.
“It’s definitely way more expensive to be an art major than a computer science major,” she says.
The 30-year old senior spent $220 on supplies for a photography class last semester. The cost mostly covered film, negative sheets and paper. To her convenience, she didn’t have to buy a camera because she already had one. But for her digital arts class this semester, Mosher says her professor told her class to expect to spend about $300 on paper and ink.
For Mosher, these expenses are not easy to cover.
“I’m not made of money,” she says, adding that she’s not the only one complaining. “I hear this from every art student I’ve come in contact with.”
Most art courses at Stony Brook require students to purchase their own supplies in addition to paying a studio fee, which is supposed to go towards materials and equipment upkeep. From oil pastels to clay to photo paper, students can spend anywhere from $200 to $500 on art supplies per class, and the costs add up with every course a student takes. The university does provide chemicals, though.
Martin Levine, a printmaking professor and the undergraduate director for the art department, says students have been paying for supplies for years. Due in part to budget cuts, he says there aren’t enough funds to cover salaries and other expenses while also providing supplies for hundreds of students. There is not enough funding to offer scholarships, either. “It’s never going to happen with low tuition,” he says. “There’s just not enough money.”
There are also potential issues with providing every student with his or her own share of supplies, Levine says. Some students may use more paper or drawing materials than others, which would leave some with rations that last a whole semester and others empty-handed by midterms. There is also the possibility of students abusing the supplies by selling their surpluses.
Stony Brook is more than well-known for its focus on science and mathematics; it is a research university first and foremost. The faculty is layered with award-winning scholars, and the university fosters its own hospital and a relationship with Brookhaven National Laboratory. Numerous grants, awards and donations—including the $150 million Simons donation received last semester—have been dedicated to the advancements the students and faculty manage in mathematics, engineering, chemistry and biology. So much emphasis and priority is placed on these curricula that the smaller majors and minors studied at Stony Brook can easily be overlooked. Because of this reputation, and the fact that they have to buy their own supplies, many students like Mosher assume that art is underfunded compared to other majors.
According to last year’s University Operating Budget, art was one of the lowest funded departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. It received $2.1 million compared to $3.9 million for music, $2.4 million for English, $3.1 million for history and $2.9 million for political science, for example. Science departments, especially ones involving research, received anywhere from $5.1 million (geosciences) to $13.6 million (chemistry). For most departments, the majority of a budget is allocated for salaries, so the amount of faculty and staff is one factor that determines how much funding they receive. Some departments require several thousand dollars worth of equipment. Others, such as art, fund off-campus-affiliated facilities: the art department’s budget funds the Pollack-Krasner House and the Study Center in East Hampton, which the Stony Brook Foundation operates. Many departments also receive grants that the Foundation handles as well.
Levine says the art department has requested additional funding in the past, but the university never granted the requests, and a university budget representative declined to comment. However, for this academic year, according to the University Operating Budget, the art department receives more funding by almost $100,000. Salaries and wages make up for $2 million of this year’s $2.2 million budget while $197,000 cover supplies and expenses. Students’ art fees total to roughly $25,500; $17,000 covering supplies and $8,500 being put towards salaries and wages.
But allocation for equipment dropped significantly from last year to this year. Last year about $16,000 went towards equipment – the majority of it came from a grant – and this year $1,000 is allocated for that purpose.
Alexandra Iosub, a recent graduate who studied printmaking and lithography, says she is concerned with the management of the equipment she used while she attended Stony Brook. She says the presses students use to print lithographs are old and constantly in need of repair. “The lack of funding was most obvious in the litho studio,” she says, comparing it to the digital arts studio next door which is filled with brand new Macs and secured by an alarmed glass door.
Along with paying her $50-100 studio fee, Iosub had to purchase her own supplies as well: sponges, pencils, aprons and aluminum ball-grained plates. She says her professor has rationed materials such as cheese cloth because there are not enough funds to replace them.
Art students are required to spend significant amounts of time outside of classes to work on their projects. Mosher works as a web designer and takes up sporadic contract jobs, not working as much as she would like because she needs time to complete her projects. After adding in the money she spends on supplies, she says she has to borrow money from her husband to relieve herself of these financial burdens. Iosub also worked while taking summer courses and she worked in the fall on top of a course load of five studio classes. Sometimes, if students cannot afford to buy supplies for a class, it can defer their graduation.
“If you’re not working, how are you supposed to pay for supplies?” Mosher says. “It’s kind of like a huge Catch-22.”
John Lutterbie, the art department chairperson, declined a request for an interview to discuss these issues.
Nader Nouraee, a senior and teaching assistant for the Photography I class, says many students confront him about their inability to afford supplies. One student, he says, told him she was poor and could not find the money to buy the suggested $400 worth of materials. Nouraee says this affects students’ performances in class because they are unable to produce decent prints.
However, he agrees with Levine that this is something the art department always required of students. He also agrees with the problems suggested by Levine that could arise if Stony Brook supplied students with their own rations of materials.
But the studio art and biology double major says he believes there is not much that can be done. “I think it’s important to stay optimistic about it,” Nouraee says. “But as of now, I don’t really see it going anywhere.”