Get to Know California College of the Arts's New Dean of Fine Arts

James VoorhiesThis August, James Voorhies returned to San Francisco to become dean of the esteemed Fine Arts division at California College of the Arts (CCA). Voorhies, previously deputy director of CCA Wattis from 2005-2006, was most recently Director of Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University. He brings an approach deeply engaged in both theory and practice to his new role at CCA.

Comparable to your role as Director of the Carpenter Center (CCVA), your position as Dean of Fine Arts at CCA gives you an opportunity to shape and define fine arts education at a strategic level.
Yes, this is an exciting opportunity, especially with an institution I greatly admire and respect. An interdisciplinary approach among the Fine Arts programs (i.e. Paintings, Sculpture, Ceramics, Printmaking, etc.) has long been core to the college’s mission. I envision building on that evolution while placing even greater emphasis on connecting Fine Arts to the other divisions. Design intelligence, spatial practice, and critical thinking are indispensable to any creative pursuit today. I want to insert voices by contemporary artists, curators and writers into our curriculum who push against easy identification with a specific medium or discipline.

At CCVA, you focused on a synthesis of art, design and education. That’s been a strength of CCA’s as well. Are there interdisciplinary programs you’ve launched that you’d like to implement here, like Bureau for Open Culture?
Bureau for Open Culture technically exists—now. It’s both a philosophy and a periodic physical platform that defines my own work as an educator,writer and curator. I see it as a critical practice that inhabits existing forms and institutions in order to change things from within.

Students in critique at CCA.You were previously deputy director of CCA Wattis, and have expressed admiration for the work of its current director, Anthony Huberman. How would you like to see students interacting with the Wattis and its globally-minded, contemporary program?
The Wattis is a crucial part of the educational experience at CCA. I admire Anthony as a curator and colleague and look forward to working with him and his team. It’s too soon to say exactly how a collaboration between Fine Arts and the Wattis would look. I’d like to conceive something that connects structurally over a number of years, rather than one-off collaborations. Beginning next year, I’ll be teaching a graduate course in contemporary art and curatorial practice. There may be opportunity for that course to connect with the Wattis.  

With CCA’s proximity to Silicon Valley, a world-class new media curator in Rudolf Frieling at SFMOMA, and galleries like Gray Area, would you engage with the community of technologists and thinkers in the context of digital art and beyond?
I just spent two consecutive days at SFMOMA listening to Rudolf engage with the great Julia Scher. Yes. Technology in its many different manifestations will be increasingly prioritized in the Fine Arts curriculum at CCA. I believe it’s crucial to have voices in contemporary art who are leading the discourse in expanding the intersections between art and technology.

San Francisco’s art scene is flourishing like never before. How would you like to see taking advantage of the city’s resources and plugging into the community?
The vibrant scene is itself an extraordinary resource for students (and all of us!). I have always believed it was important to participate in real time—meaning be physically present—in the arts scene: support, intersect, attend, question, challenge, give to it, and take from it. The scene is nourishment. And, like you say, San Francisco has an abundance of cultural resources. Participation in that community is an essential part of a student’s education at CCA.

A version of this article appeared in the October 2016 issue of SFC&G (San Francisco Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Design Icon: James Voorhies.