Historian C. J. Alvarez came to SAR to work on a project exploring the US-Mexico border as a bioregion and to challenge, through his writing, the traditional and historic definitions of the region. “I can say that, without a doubt, my year at the School for Advanced Research has been the highlight of my entire career.” He reflects, “The vision of SAR is to be an institution that ‘fosters understanding of humankind through scholarly and artistic creativity,’ and this is what our fellowship with one another embodied in the fullest sense. In our long exchanges, we drew on both our research and the details of our own lives to try to make sense of what the pandemic has done to our species, and we speculated about what we might be able to learn from it. In those many hours, life felt less like a lock-down and more like the most advanced seminar I have ever attended. Like everyone else, I look forward to the day when the virus has been put behind us somehow. But in the here and now, I am grateful for the opportunity it has inadvertently presented in this special place.”
Every year SAR publishes its Annual Report, which describes accomplishments and acknowledges supporters over the previous fiscal year. Our 2019–2020 report is no different, and yet so much has changed, as President Michael F. Brown explains in his President’s Message:
A century and a half ago, the British poet and critic Matthew Arnold decried “this strange disease of modern life, with its sick hurry, its divided aims.” In the spring of 2020, much of that hurry was brought to a halt by a previously unknown virus, whose transmissibility forced SAR to close its campus and send its staff to work from home. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the subsequent emergence of a massive movement protesting social inequality and racial discrimination in the United States, has forever marked 2020 as an unprecedented moment in our history.
The Creative Thought Forum’s theme for 2019–2020 had been “The Future of Work.” This was thrown into disarray by the pandemic. Ironically, we were forced to rethink and reinvent our own work to adapt to a changed reality.
The resilience and creativity demonstrated by our staff, resident scholars, and artist fellows as they responded to mandated shutdowns and shifting workflows proved inspiring. Dorothy Grant, the renowned Haida fashion designer and this year’s Katrin H. Lamon fellow, suspended her writing project to launch a successful line of fashionable face masks. Through the generosity of our Board of Directors and several other committed donors, SAR’s physical plant team, under the direction of Vice President for Finance and Administration Alex Kalangis, took advantage of the unexpectedly empty campus to oversee a series of improvements to the grounds, including renewing the stucco on most of our buildings. The adobe structures of El Delirio now glow with refreshed color and restored masonry.
Against this backdrop it is good to be reminded of what SAR accomplished during the first half of the 2019–2020 academic year, documented in this annual report: an engaging array of lectures, field trips, adult education classes, artist talks, and scholarly debates. What we learned in the latter half of the year is that the future of SAR’s work will depend on complementing our in-person events with a robust online presence.
We look forward to the day when we can safely reopen the campus and the Indian Arts Research Center collections to members and the general public. Until then, you can count on us to offer compelling interviews, classes, and webinars that expand your understanding of Native American art, Southwestern cultures, and the social world in general.
Michael F. Brown