BEYOND MERE SURVIVAL


begging, one more time
March 31, 2010, 10:23 pm
Filed under: rants and such | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

As I am now hearing back from MFA programs it’s once again time to deal with finances, and the humiliation of asking for money or resources all the time. My room mate suggested I should keep all the letters and documents I have written to ask for some sort of assistance so I can survive.

All the food stamps paperwork, grants, scholarships, utility assistance letters. The essay to try to get money for florence’s braces, the financial aid pleas to various schools, the letters to my landlord asking to lower rent. It can keep on going, I think.

The second step would be to interview the people around me and ask them how it is that they do what they do, especially the people I have around at school. Last night this eminent intellectual guy came to speak to my class, and he went off about class, communism, corporations, and the economy of generosity. Someone in the class asked him how he makes ends meet, and he answered that he writes, gets some commissions, and than his mother died leaving him enough money to buy a house in Paris, and save up enough to never worry about whether what he is doing makes any money.

I appreciate his candor, but it made me feel like shit, hopeless about my own predicament. After class I was talking to a classmate I really like and he frankly told me that his parents help him out with rent while he is in school, and he is 28, not 18. Again, I appreciate his willingness to share this truth, but it doesn’t give me many tools to imagine how I can live the life I want.

On one side I feel like it’s incredibly selfish and entitled to even feel like I can desire a certain life, but on the other side I am sick of seeing people with privilege being the only ones able to live fulfilling lives that are not bogged down by a constant preoccupation with survival.

SAIC offered me not even enough to cover half of their tuition for the next two years, and I had to appeal to the Financial Aid department. I am in between humiliated and defiant right now, and hopeful that they don’t totally shut me down, while being frustrated with the fact that I am still dependent on an elite, wealthy institution.

Here is the letter I wrote, because I am sick of these things being secret, and I am sick of feeling that everyone is very good at talking about art and ideals and blah blah, but talking  about what makes it financially viable or possible is super taboo.

I am an incoming MFA in painting, and a current post bac in the same department.  I am committed to the school because of its focus on helping us become the best artists we can be, without forcing us into one mold or narrow discipline.

I am a single parent to 10-year-old twins, and the first person in my family to graduate from college. I left Italy partly to leave the abuse and dysfunction of my family, and came to the US with my then 2-year-old daughters in 2002.

I worked relentlessly, and in five years had a triple degree in art history, international studies and painting from Indiana University with a GPA of 3.9. I was working, taking care of my daughters, and volunteering at a domestic violence shelter, because I wanted to try to break the cycle that affected me so deeply. During that time I accrued significant debt in order to go to school, as I had no financial help from my family, or anyone else.

I came to SAIC after laboring to make sense of my place within the art world, which, coming from poverty, seemed impossible to penetrate financially and intellectually. However I realized that such a sense of self-exclusion only keeps the pool of people that are successfully making art restricted to the ones that have had the social capital, means and time to dedicate themselves to art making.

I was able to come to SAIC thanks to a scholarship that covered the cost of tuition. To cover living expenses, I took student loans, and now have a total debt of $35,000. In this year as a post bac I have learned an incredible amount about myself as an artist and I can’t wait to continue this process during graduate school.

As I read over the financial aid packet I realized that my biggest fear of having worked so hard, and then having to give it all up because of money, was materializing before my eyes. Tuition alone at the school is $37,000, and I was only awarded $13,400 in grant funds.  In addition $6,000 of the award is work study, which I have not had much luck with this year. I am taking 15 credits, which only leaves me a day to work if I want to have any time in the studio at all.  The pay for work study is anywhere between $9 and $11.50 an hour, which left me making only about $900 dollars per semester working 7 hours a week.

The loans offer of $20,500 in Stafford loans still barely covers tuition, and will lead me to accrue $40,000 of debt in the course of two years.

Still, I would not be able to survive, even if I accepted the Stafford loans, since they would only cover tuition.

The additional $15,000 of the award is private loans. I am not in the position to take those loans.  As I mentioned, I have $35,000 of debt between this year and undergrad because I was shouldering the cost of school completely, without any outside support, and working.

SAIC prides itself on making students the best artist they can be, but that is a paradox, if my chief preoccupation coming out of school will be “where in the world can I find the $600 a month to pay back my student loans?”, not to mention just dealing with the cost of living for me and my daughters.

SAIC also prides itself on valuing diversity, but how diverse can a school be when the only people that can attend come from a highly privileged background?

I have many documents that show my situation and financial need. I have my IL food stamps award, or my checking account statement, or my tax return, and a plethora of other documents that can support this letter. Please let me know what you need and I will be happy to provide it.

thank you
chiara



the move- part one: schools
March 20, 2009, 3:46 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

after many years of living in bloomington, sort of accidentally, i am likely moving in a way that feels more intentional, albeit random in its own merit.  a strong candidate for the move is san francisco, because i have been accepted at a school there.

however it’s not so much my school i am concerned with, as much as with oona and florence’s. after all it is where they spend 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, and a vital part of them feeling comfortable and happy with moving.

i have been researching schools and trying to get a sense of the elementary public schools in the city, with moderate success. i used the great schools website, which rates schools based on academic performance (often based on standardized testing), but also has a space for parent/student comments and rating. harvey milk civil rights elementary school

i was heartened to see that there seem to be many many schools that are “good”, at least on a superficial level, including the harvey milk civil rights elementary school, which is a welcomed change for the relentless homophobic/ gender policing messages they seem to be getting at school now, that have prompted oona to dress more girly because she does not want to be made fun of, or kicked out of the girls bathroom.

what was a bigger and unexpected revelation is another piece of information provided by the great schools database: ethnic and economic background of the students at each school. what appears is a color coded map of the city, that follows the shifting of neighbourhoods and wealth. white students are always a minority in any of the public schools i found, even though they make up 80% of students in private schools in the city. many schools had a strong majority of asian students, or hispanic students, but never african american students. it kind of blew my mind that is would be so stark, that within a city so small and dense there would be such a clear deliniation. it prompted me to reflect on my own sense of  otherness tied to ethnicity and identity.

growing up in a monocultural environment my sense of race was distant and mediated through pop culture, even though i was very aware that being italian was second class, something you tried to escape, or hide, or deprecate. i grew up with a clear sense that being not from italy was better, that being british or american was many steps higher,  a position to look up to, or to strive for.

now living in the U.S. i am pushed into ubiquotous whitewashing and still trying to figure out where the hell it is that i fit, and where oona and florence fit also ( though of course it will be up to them to figure that out). in bloomington they are part of a majority when it comes to the color of their skin, and a minority when it comes to their beliefs about tolerance, or religion, or cultural references. they are already stuck in the middle, having  a family living on the other side of the ocean. they have already moved across distances of culture and language, and i want the next move to be as easy for them as possible.

so i am struggling to read how the intensley racialized landscape of a city will affect their lives, the kids they spend their days with, that will be their friends. is it unfair to send them to a school where 78% of children speak cantonese at home? is it fucked up of me to even consider race as a factor in their schooling? i don’t want to make this any harder on them. i don’t want them to feel like outsiders because they are new in town, and because they speak a different language at home, and because the kids they are in class with have a completely different set of cultural, linguistic and ethnic references.  i want to believe that none of that matters, that people can easily transcend those diffrences and connect at a more deep rooted human level, but i have been the outsider too much to know that it is not so simple.