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UArts Abruptly Announces Closure

June 3, 2024
The neoclassical façade of Philadelphia's University of the Arts

The University of the Arts, Philadelphia (photo courtesy of Ajay Suresh)

On May 31st, Philadelphia’s University of the Arts announced that it would be closing after more than one hundred fifty years in operation.

The University of the Arts (UArts) was founded in 1876 as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, making it one of the oldest art schools in the country. It underwent several name changes and reorganizations, becoming known as the University of the Arts in 1987 after merging with the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts. The school has many prominent alumni and faculty, including painters like Martha Walter and Sidney Goodman.

Over the past several years, UArts has faced the problems that many art schools now face, including insufficient funding and shrinking class sizes, with the student body decreasing by 40% since 2013. The 2022-23 freshman class amounts to only 182 students. UArts’s closure comes just under six months after another prestigious Philadelphia art school, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, announced it would be ending its degree-awarding programs next year. Like UArts, PAFA experienced decreasing enrollment and dwindling funds. The effects of COVID-19 and poor investment decisions also play a part in why many art schools struggle. However, at least PAFA gave its student body and faculty a fair bit of notice. UArts, on the other hand, made their announcement on May 31st, saying that the school would close on June 7th. Many students and teachers learned of the school’s closure through social media and an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, as the school had not sent out an official notice yet. UArts’s closure came very suddenly because grants and other donations were insufficient to adequately run the school, leading to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education to revoke the school’s accreditation.

The school has 1,149 students, all likely shocked, unsurprisingly. The New York Times spoke to one student who said she saw the Philadelphia Inquirer article less than four hours after receiving an email from the university to apply for graduation as an illustration major. An official announcement went out to the student body two hours after the Inquirer article’s publication. The email read, “The situation came to light very suddenly. Despite swift action, we were unable to bridge the necessary gaps.” On Monday, June 3rd, the school hosted a town hall to answer any questions students and faculty might have. Kerry Walk and Judson Aaron, the school’s president and chair of the board of trustees, have promised to help students transfer to comparable art schools. This is the same promise PAFA’s administration made to its own students, some of whom were likely looking to UArts as an option. This leaves Temple University, Drexel University, and Moore College as the local options for these students.

Not only have enrolled students been left without a school, but prospective students as well. Because of the lack of communication the school’s leadership exhibited, incoming students have had their futures disrupted after being assured it was secure and stable at UArts. Ben Waxman, a Pennsylvania state representative whose district covers much of Center City Philadelphia, called the closure “not only a devastating blow to our local community, but also a significant setback for the arts and education”. Due to the lack of communication from the school’s leadership, Waxman is now calling for an independent investigation into UArts’s closure. Since the school’s faculty and staff are about to lose their jobs, the school may have violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires companies with over one hundred employees to announce any mass layoffs or company closures sixty days in advance.