Institutional News, CAPA

Bennington College Establishes New Master of Fine Arts in Public Action

The College is pleased to announce a new two-year Master of Fine Arts in Public Action degree, launching in Fall 2018.


This MFA in Public Action is specifically geared to professionals working in the arts, including visual and performing artists and leaders, who are making significant contributions to the field of socially and civically engaged creative practice.

Candidates’ creative work can engage myriad topics, including community regeneration, civic participation, economic development, creative placemaking, public policy, environmental advocacy, conflict resolution, or other cross-sector engagements where there is an urgent need for highly creative approaches to systemic challenges.

The MFA in Public Action is being directed by faculty member Robert Ransick in collaboration with the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) Director Susan Sgorbati and is modeled on longstanding successes of Bennington’s current MFA in Dance.

“The MFA in Public Action is a unique program that supports highly accomplished artists in the further development of their creative work tackling systemic challenges facing our world at Bennington’s groundbreaking Center for the Advancement of Public Action,” said Ransick.

“Bennington College is excited to offer this new MFA in Public Action, which combines artistry and social justice into a uniquely rigorous graduate degree,” said Provost and Dean of the College Isabel Roche. “We are confident that our inaugural candidates will find their time at the College beneficial, as they teach current undergraduates, develop their own socially engaged work, study alongside faculty mentors, and ultimately find themselves challenged, and their skills deepened, from their participation.”

Each year, one to three professional MFA candidates will be admitted to the program. For Fall 2018, two MFA in Public Action candidates have been selected: theatre activist Aaron Landsman and sculptor Caroline Woolard.

As part of their studies, Landsman and Woolard will each teach undergraduate courses every term alongside faculty mentors in their respective disciplines. Each term, the graduate students will be asked to share the results of their research and work in socially engaged practice with the Bennington community. They will bring added expertise, innovation, and knowledge to Bennington College undergraduate students interested in socially and civically engaged creative public action.

The curriculum for the MFA in Public Action is largely self-directed: candidates work closely with faculty to design an education plan that best suits their individual strengths, interests, goals, and creative process. The schedule for each term includes both research and work in creative public action and other coursework. As a core requirement, candidates meet in a once-a-week tutorial with faculty to discuss and show the development of new material. This course, the Graduate Research Seminar in Public Action, is the basis of each individual’s studies.

The program will incorporate Bennington’s progressive pedagogy, extending more than eight decades of innovative artistic research, teaching, and learning, while integrating the orientation and methods of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action.

About the MFA in Public Action Candidates

Aaron Landsman makes live performances and other events, which exist at the intersection of art and community organizing. His work includes site-specific productions in the kinds of places where people perform their lives: homes, offices, buses and meeting rooms, as well as more traditionally staged works. His recent projects have been presented in New York at Abrons Art Center, The Chocolate Factory Theater, and HERE Art Center. From 2012-14 his participatory theater work City Council Meeting, created with Mallory Catlett and Jim Findlay, was presented in Houston, Tempe, New York, San Francisco and Keene, NH.

He is currently in year two of a 20-year art and activism project about gentrification called Perfect City, making a new theatrical work with a group of Serbian collaborators, called Language Reversal, about translation and oligarchy, and developing the Squares a theater piece derived from a series of found 1970s snapshots. Landsman is a 2017-18 Guggenheim Fellow in Theater, a former Arts Fellow and current Visiting Associate Professor at Princeton. His work has been funded by NPN, NEFA’s National Theater Project, MAP and Jerome, among others. He co-created and teaches the Creative Capital Professional Development Program’s core weekend and daylong workshops. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Caroline Woolard is a New York-based artist born in Rhode Island. Woolard creates sculptures using online networks, hand built objects, and immersive environments. Her work has been commissioned by MoMA, the Whitney Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Creative Time, the Brooklyn Museum, Cornell University, and Cooper Union. Woolard’s work has been celebrated by the National Endowment for the Arts, where she delivered the 50th Anniversary keynote (2017) and in New York Close Up, the PBS / Art21 documentary series (2017). Solo exhibitions include Imperial Forms, LMAK gallery, New York, NY (2018), and Carried on Both Sides, Lesley Heller Workspace, New York, NY (2018). Group exhibitions include Crossing Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY (2014), and Living as Form, Creative Time, New York, NY (2011).

Woolard’s work has been supported by residencies at NEWINC, New York, NY (2017); Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) Workspace, New York, NY (2016);  MoMA, New York, NY (2014); Queens Museum, Queens, NY, (2014); and Watermill, Water Mill, NY (2011) and through fellowships at Eyebeam, Brooklyn, NY (2013); and the MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH (2009). Caroline Woolard is an Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the University of Hartford and a mentor in MFA Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts. Recent scholarly writing on her work has been published in The Brooklyn Rail (2018); Artforum (2016); Art in America (2016); The New York Times (2016); and South Atlantic Quarterly (2015). Woolard’s work has been featured twice in PBS / Art21 for New York Close Up (2014, 2016). Woolard holds a BFA from Cooper Union (Sculpture, 2007) and is a recipient of the Rockefeller Cultural Innovation Fund (OurGoods, 2010-2012), the Antipode Scholar-Activist Project Award (Community Economies Collective, 2016), and the Theo Westenberger Estate Fund (2015). Woolard has been named one of 11 Artists to Transform the Art World (2017), has been listed in the WIRED Smart List (2013), ArtNet's Top 20 Female Artists (2015), and in the Top 100 Women for the Commons by the Peer to Peer Foundation (2014).