Cornish—Seattle's Preeminent Arts School—Risks It All
by Jen Graves
on Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 8:43 AM
IMMEDIATE CHALLENGE Decreased enrollment, a budget in need of slashing, and institutional turmoil have Cornish in pieces.
Cornish College of the Arts is where musician John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham first laid eyes on each other in 1938, falling into a love and collaboration that would explode conventional Western divisions between dance, music, and sculpture. Dance and art legends Martha Graham and Mark Tobey taught at Cornish. Mary Lambert, who sings "Same Love" with Macklemore and performed at the Grammys this year, graduated from Cornish. Jerick Hoffer, better known as Jinkx Monsoon, winner of RuPaul's Drag Race last season, graduated from Cornish. Several artists who've won Stranger Genius Awards went to Cornish, and Eyvind Kang and Jessika Kenney, who won the 2013 Genius Award in music, teach at Cornish. It is the only school in Seattle that does nothing but pump artists of all disciplines into the world.
But distressingly, enrollment at the school is down, and three months ago, Cornish president Nancy Uscher called an all-community meeting that turned out to be highly contentious. Afterward, she circulated a memo to faculty and staff that made its way to me. The memo describes the "immediate challenge" of having to cut $2 million from the 2014–2015 operating budget: "We recognize that this will require systemic change; we cannot only 'cut' our way out of this situation."