* State fiscal woes threaten classical guitarists in Fullerton, art students in Pomona


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Now on the chopping block, thanks to the state’s budget crisis: a crucial part of the degree program in classical guitar at Cal State Fullerton, and the fine arts major at California State Polytechnic Institute, Pomona.

At Cal State Fullerton, David Grimes, director of the classical guitar program, says enrollment is being capped at 10, down from 28, and courses vital to shaping a well-rounded guitarist are in danger of being lost. So is the emphasis on ensemble playing that Grimes, who has led the program since 1973, considers its distinguishing feature – along with its affordability. He says the estimated savings to the university is $48,000 a year, and that a special foundation has been created to try to raise an endowment of about $1 million that would generate that much annually.


The guitar major is bureaucratically vulnerable, he said, because neither he nor its two other instructors are tenured professors, or even full-time. In January, he said, the music department faculty approved reducing the guitar program, which means no new students will be admitted until enrollment drops to 10.

“It killed me that this was the first year we couldn’t audition any new guitar majors,” said Grimes, who is 69 and officially retired but continues to teach. “There have been protests, and there’s been a letter-writing campaign to the president, asking that the program be restored.”

Grimes said that while the program hasn’t graduated any players “who would be known outside the guitar world,” a recent survey showed that 85% of its alumni from the past 10 years are earning their living from the guitar, usually through a combination of teaching and performing. Among the casualties, he said, will be the Fullerton Guitar Orchestra, an ensemble of 22 players that tours in California and over the last 10 years also has barnstormed in Hawaii, Greece and Bulgaria.

What’s more, Grimes said, the program’s loss will leave many aspiring guitarists stranded: At Cal State Fullerton, annual fees are $4,700, compared to such expensive alternatives as the guitar programs at USC’s Thornton School of Music, where tuition costs $20,000 a year, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, which costs $35,000.

At Cal Poly, the provost has recommended phasing out the fine arts major that usually has about 80 to 100 students, with an eventual estimated savings of $200,000 after current enrollees finish their degrees. Student protests have begun, and the campaign is likely to continue into the fall, when the university’s top faculty body, the Academic Senate, will consider whether to pull the plug on fine arts, which trains studio artists.

Provost Marten denBoer, the university’s top academic official, said last week that graphic design and art history would remain as majors within the art department. He said the cuts eventually would reduce the teaching staff by two full-time positions. Not all fine arts classes would be eliminated, as some are required for graphic design students and architecture majors, and DenBoer says it’s important to have them available for all students: “The real struggle in the next few years is to maintain our identity as a true university, and not just a technical school.”


Money isn’t the only reason the ax is hovering over fine arts. DenBoer said that “a body of evidence” has accumulated against the fine arts program, including complaints from students and faculty from other departments who take the courses. He also cited a preliminary report last year from evaluators who visited from the National Assn. of Schools of Art and Design, which he said echoed the in-house complaints.

But Babette Mayor, who has chaired the art department for 10 years, said notice came Monday that the national association had renewed its accreditation for 10 years, fine arts included. Some criticisms in the visiting evaluators’ report were answered, she said, and others are leading to changes. She is mystified by DenBoer’s public statements about complaints from within the university.

“We have no idea what they’re talking about. We’re very concerned they’re making these negative comments that impact our entire department.”

Alex Brown, a senior who does textured abstract paintings and expects to finish his degree in the fall, said that, apart from the preliminary evaluation that he thinks should be trumped by the renewed accreditation, he can’t understand why the fine arts major is being painted as an underachiever. “We’ve asked multiple times but haven’t gotten a straight answer yet,” he said.

Even though current students will be able to complete their degrees, Brown said, they will fight to preserve the course of study for others yet to come. “We don’t want it to stop. We want art to be everywhere, and continue to thrive, no matter where it’s at.”
Overall, DenBoer said, he projects Cal Poly Pomona’s academic budget for the coming year to be $75 million, down from almost $100 million two years ago. He said his advice in a meeting with fine arts majors last week was to lobby state officials to restore cuts to higher education. When it comes to the future of the program, he said, “if our budget were what it was a few years ago, the conversation would be a different one.”

-- Mike Boehm

*[Updated]: The original post incorrectly said that Cal State Fullerton’s guitar program was the only one at a public university in California, and that David Grimes was its founder. May 11, 9:11 a.m.

The original post’s photo information incorrectly identified Marten denBoer as provost of Cal State Fullerton, rather than Cal Poly Pomona. May 13, 11:21 a.m.

Video: Fullerton Guitar Orchestra from Cal State Fullerton performs in Bulgaria, 2009. Credit: YouTube