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Letters to the Editor 

Week of April 25, 2001

Butterflies Are Free

The flutter over a proposed museum: Thank you for Matt Smith's delicious deconstruction of certain social butterflies' misguided goal of destroying the Embarcadero's last patch of open space, including some 100 mature trees, to build a silly butterfly museum ("Do-Gooders, NIMBYs, and Other Insects," April 11). Let's hope the S.F. Board of Supervisors has the good sense to transfer Ferry Park to the Recreation and Park Department, thereby ensuring the park's preservation.

Then we could create a truly educational open-air "museum" by declaring the site to be both a dog park and a native-plant preserve (like Fort Funston). Kids could learn how the world really works, by watching two of the city's most tenacious constituencies fight over the turf in perpetuity.

Whoever wins -- I'm for dogs (but only nice ones) and randomly introduced weeds (sorry, I mean biodiversity) -- I bet live, free-ranging butterflies would continue to show up. And that, not another glass-walled building with a $9 admission charge, is what a dense city's downtown really needs.
Michael Katz

A Musical Note

In 50 years, you'll make Rolling Stone: I just read the article on 86 (the band) ("Harmonic Convergence," Music, April 11) and I wanted to say thanks. To you, it may be just another article, but to us it means a lot. After 10 years of slogging through the clubs and recording studios of the Bay Area, it's nice to get a little recognition from the press.
Joel Murach
Mission District

Arts and Letters

Painting a different picture of the Academy of Art College: As president of the Academy of Art College, I write to correct the numerous misrepresentations contained in the article Matt Smith wrote for SF Weekly's April 4 issue ("The Art of the Deal"). The Academy of Art College is an 80-year-old institution that confers the degrees of the associate of arts, bachelor of fine arts, and master of fine arts in 10 majors. We enroll over 6,200 students.

Contrary to Mr. Smith's claim that the academy is taking advantage of "those who dream of someday becoming artists," the academy has provided an opportunity for thousands of its graduates to achieve their goal. Eighty-two percent of our students obtain employment on completion of the program. They are employed by the most successful firms, including Industrial Light & Magic, Pixar, Lucas Film, DreamWorks, Landor & Associates, Gensler & Associates, Skidmore, Owings & Merril, Disney, MSNBC, Microsoft, Oracle, and Hallmark. These companies employ our graduates because they enter the work force fully trained, with professional portfolios, and are among the very best in their field. They are taught to make a career out of what they've always loved. We do not take advantage of artists' dreams; we help them come true.

Both undergraduate and graduate students in all our disciplines have earned the highest accolades and awards in international and national competitions. Graphic design students have won over 21 coveted international Clio Awards and have had their work honored by prestigious design journals and publications such as Critique, Communication Arts, and Graphis. Just recently, five advertising students earned a spot in the Art Directors 80th Annual Book, their TV commercial "Good Morning to You Too" being chosen from over 16,000 entries. At last year's Academy of Art College Fashion Show, Oscar de la Renta not only made a personal appearance but chose three academy students for internships. Ford Motors has asked the academy to redesign the Ford Focus and has donated a car to us for this purpose, resulting in the academy's interdepartmental Ford Focus Project. The academy's academic credentials equal its artistic success. The academy meets the same requirements by which regionally accredited institutions are judged. As a professional school rather than a liberal arts college, the academy has focused on a curriculum that addresses its students' needs rather than the general requirements for regional accreditation. To satisfy both, students would have to stay in school longer to produce the quality of portfolio the job market expects and to receive the same level of professional training they currently receive. This delay in entering the job market would mean a substantially greater educational cost to families. Instead, liberal arts are incorporated into the academy's advanced art and design programs, but in a way that benefits the students who aspire to become working artists and designers. Prospective students are not only well-informed of the academy's philosophy and programs but choose to come here because of the school's emphasis on professional education.

Mr. Smith's criticism of the academy's many facilities demonstrates his lack of familiarity with real estate, educational institutions, or both. The academy's buildings, clearly marked throughout the city with Academy of Art College signs, are used as dormitories, educational facilities, studios, administrative office space, and countless other ways by the school. If its owners sought to generate income, they could rent those facilities to businesses that would pay higher rent than can be realized using the buildings for educational purposes. Like any other great academic institution, having extensive facilities is an absolute necessity and is a reflection of the school's quality of education. The academy's 20 buildings contain technologically advanced classrooms, labs and studios with the latest software and equipment available, and an art library. These state-of-the-art facilities assure that the students stay current with the market and industrial standards. The academy is proud that its facilities are second to none and that it has the space for its unparalleled resources. Students are grateful that the academy does not confront the housing and space limitation crises that other colleges face.

The claims in Mr. Smith's article regarding our facility, instructors, and staff are simply untrue -- not surprising since the sources are anonymous and, where identified, are former, rather than current, employees. We invite Mr. Smith to talk with our faculty members, who are justified in being terribly insulted by Mr. Smith's jibe that their loyalty is "veneer-thin" -- a claim refuted by their long tenure. The academy's employees are highly capable, and its instructors are at the top of their profession. Like other quality employers, the academy provides its employees with compensation and benefits consistent with their expertise, and creates a stimulating academic atmosphere in which to work and teach.

The academy is best portrayed by the accomplishments of its faculty and students. We invite your readers to attend our annual Spring Show (May 24) or our annual Fashion Show (May 21), or to take one of our daily tours. Words cannot replace seeing our jaw-dropping facilities, outstanding professional instructors from all over the world, award-winning student work, and dedicated faculty and staff.
Elisa Stephens
President, Academy of Art College
San Francisco

Art and soul: The portrayal of the Academy of Art College ("The Art of the Deal," Matt Smith, April 4) was very one-sided and therefore not terribly accurate. I attended the academy for five years and found what you wrote to be true in some cases. The academy owners do appear to only care about money. But did you try walking around the school and speaking to students? A lot of students do come to the school without any art experience. But, the reality of the art world as a business quickly sinks in, and anyone who thought being an artist would be easy learns that the only way to be good is to work hard all the time.

The level of the best artwork there is extremely high, and those who cannot keep up either switch to something else or work even harder. When students graduate and are placed in well-known studios and companies, it is because of the quality of their portfolios and their own effort in looking for work, not because the academy finds places for them. Those badly paid teachers who stay do so because they love teaching to students who are passionate about learning. So, say what you want about the academy's money-scheming ways by quoting angry ex-employees. But the heart and soul of that school lie elsewhere.
Cheryl de los Reyes Cruz

He's suffered for his art: Your article was a breath of fresh air. It's the best portrayal of the academy I've read yet. I was a student there for about 2 1/2 years in the computer arts department. The administration brags about how they hire artists working in the industry to teach, but there are only a few of those. Several instructors when I was there were students who had just graduated the semester before. Many instructors would voice complaints to the students about how they got paid so poorly they didn't know why they continued there.
Name Withheld
Sunset District

Power and Authority

We're thinking, we're thinking: I don't care if the Bay Guardian hasn't disclosed its financial backing of the MUD initiative ("MUD in Your Eye," Mecklin, April 4). None of the other players in the electric power debacle disclosed their vested interests, so what's the point of introducing ethics at this late date? You're exploiting this crisis to smear your journalistic rival.

There's a lot more at stake here than the narrow cost-benefit analysis you present. We're in big trouble because the Wilson administration handed over control and pricing of electrical power generation to greedy corporate speculators. Putting control back into the hands of a publicly accountable local government must be the first order of business. Or perhaps you think we should place our trust in the invisible hand of a rigged, cutthroat market?

Before you object to the creation of yet another government agency, let's just agree that they're typically inefficient and unresponsive, a banal lesser evil. But ask yourself this question: Would you rather be oppressed by a petty government bureaucracy or raped by ruthless corporate predators?
Lee Powell

In our cover story "Delusions of Power" (April 4) we wrote that the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission had "voted unanimously" at its meeting on March 1 to exempt itself from following the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance, which governs public access to meetings and records. The commissioners did agree to follow the less strict open government provisions of a state law called the Brown Act, but they did not vote on the motion. The agenda item was continued to the next meeting because it had not been publicly noticed for the 72 hours required by the sunshine law. At the April 5 meeting, subsequently, the original motion to exempt the commission from following San Francisco's sunshine law was amended to require the LAFCO to "abide by the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance." The motion passed.

Editor's Note
Last week's Night & Day section mentioned that the play Apertura Modotti was scheduled to preview Wednesday, April 18, at the Brava Theater Center. However, due to a medical emergency, previews will begin on Wednesday, April 25. Opening night is Saturday, April 28.


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