Ashcraft named distinguished professor

Tom Ashcraft, head of the sculpture program in the School of Art at George Mason University, has been named the inaugural Distinguished Professor of Visual Arts at Western Carolina University.

The professorship, endowed at $500,000, was established through a grant of $250,000 from the C.D. Spangler Foundation combined with matching funds through a state program initiated by the General Assembly to encourage private support of public institutions of higher education.

Tom Ashcraft

Tom Ashcraft (Click to enlarge photo in a new tab/window.)

The appointment of Ashcraft to the professorship, which is effective Aug. 10, was approved by the WCU Board of Trustees during its quarterly meeting Friday, June 5. In his new role, Ashcraft also will lead WCU’s Master of Fine Arts Program.

“We are very excited that Tom Ashcraft will be joining our faculty,” said Matt Liddle, director of WCU’s School of Art and Design. “He is an artist and educator with real vision, who understands the interests of students, the ways of artists and the changing dynamics of the art world and its engagement with the public. I look forward to new and exciting things happening here as a result of his presence.”

Ashcraft has more than 30 years of experience as an educator and artist, with lectures, visiting artist engagements, exhibitions and creative projects all over world. Since 2005, he has been a core founding member of Workingman Collective, a group of artists and other professionals interested in collaboration, public art and socially engaged creative practice.

An example of the collective’s work is the three-part “Story” project in Monrovia, Liberia, commissioned as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies program. The “Story” project addressed the idea of learning and play, and linked the embassy to the community through the building of a playground, the making of a collaborative quilt and the installation of public sculptures on the embassy grounds, said George Brown, dean of WCU’s College of Fine and Performing Arts.

“Tom’s experience leveraging the visual arts to engage with diverse communities will strengthen the College of Fine and Performing Arts’ efforts to serve as the ‘cultural heart’ of Western North Carolina,” Brown said. “Socially engaged creative practice is the key to creative place-making, focusing on the power of the arts to help advance and transform our region.”

The distinguished professorship is designed to enhance the quality of undergraduate and graduate art education at WCU, which is one of only three campuses of the University of North Carolina system offering the terminal MFA degree, and the only one west of Greensboro.

“My primary responsibility leading the MFA program will be to work with the administration, faculty and students in creating an interdisciplinary environment for high motivation, intellectual curiosity, independent thought, research and creative production. I believe this will help students prepare a framework for building and navigating a practice in the arts and sustain their contribution to a contemporary society,” Ashcraft said.

He said he also plans “to develop avenues for connective tissue” between various academic disciplines, and to identify and establish opportunities for creative work and outreach on campus, within the region, and across the state and nation.

“As an artist and educator, I share WCU’s institutional core mission of collaborative study and preparing students to engage in the world as responsible citizens as a blueprint for innovative scholarship,” he said. “I believe this shared vision provides the opportunity for important traction in a creative contemporary education.”

Tom Ashcraft, left, along with fellow Workingman Collective member Peter Winant, seal a collaborative deal with quilters Alice Bracewell and Maude Davis in Liberia.

Tom Ashcraft, left, along with fellow Workingman Collective member Peter Winant, seal a collaborative deal with quilters Alice Bracewell and Maude Davis in Liberia. (Click to enlarge photo in a new tab/window.)

A member of the art faculty at George Mason University since 1996, Ashcraft served as associate director for program development for that institution’s School of Art from 2004 until 2012. He has taught at Hamilton College, the University of Maryland, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the Corcoran College of Art and Design and the University of Georgia.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in printmaking and sculpture from the University of South Florida and MFA from Indiana University.

Ashcraft has exhibited and produced work throughout the United States, including the North Carolina Museum of Art, Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art, Washington Project for the Arts, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington and Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, New York.

His work is included in public and private collections, and his awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Design Grant, Ford Foundation Fellowship, YADDO Fellowship, New York State Arts Grant and Mabel Pew Grant.

For more information about the MFA program at WCU, visit the website mfa.wcu.edu.