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We haven't always been called the "Stamps School of Art & Design," but creative practice and scholarship have been part of the University of Michigan experience from the start. We celebrated the university's bicentennial year in 2017 with a look back at key moments in our school's history, illustrated by Casey Nowak (BFA '11).

1 Alligator

It Begins with a Territorial Act. And an Alligator.

The territorial act of 1817 asserted that U-M would be a place for arts, specifying an educational approach that would incorporate “taste, genius, skills, [and] a sense of beauty.” After a few false starts in this direction, at mid-century, a portraitist named Alvah Bradish offered U-M the gifts of an alligator and Caribbean fish in exchange for an appointment as the University’s professor of fine arts.

2 Resourcing

Setting Up Shop: Arts Resourcing Begins

In 1910, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts established a Department of Fine Arts. While the department’s focus was primarily on art history — punctuated by its administratively intertwined relationship with the U-M Museum of Art — the department chair, Herbert Richard Cross, steadily built up the materials and equipment necessary for a well-functioning art school to thrive at U-M.

3 Money

We’re in the Money: U-M Gets $100K for the Arts

In 1928, the Carnegie Corporation recognized the need for more arts education on campus with a $100,000 grant for the development of fine arts on campus.

4 Identity

What’s in a Name? Art & Design Searches for Identity

While arts programs developed in several units across campus in the early 1900s, the College of Architecture had taken an active role in arts education as its curriculum. Originally housed in the College of Engineering, the College of Architecture was recognized as fully autonomous in 1931. In 1938, the school was renamed the College of Architecture and Design. And in 1954, the College of Architecture and Design became the College of Architecture and Art. The Department of Art was a distinct unit in the College, with its own administration, faculty, and staff, but with shared deans.

5 Spread Thin

Spread Thin: Art & Design Without a Home

Enrollment in architecture and art courses increased steadily after WWII, over time resulting in classes to be taught in makeshift facilities around campus. Classes were held in the old Argus factory, a converted garage, a vacant house, and the basement of the School of Education. The physical space was utterly inadequate. In 1967, the Department of Art was up for accreditation by the National Association for Schools in Art. The associated noted the tension caused by a “deplorable physical plant,” with few spaces for non-art students.

6 North Campus

North Campus Move

While a new architecture building had been proposed for North Campus as early as 1950, it wasn’t authorized until 1964. Construction finally began in 1972 and the building was occupied in 1974. While the building was big enough for a 50% increase in students, money was too tight to hire the faculty needed to teach that many students. When the National Association for Schools in Art returned to campus in 1977 for reaccreditation, the school was now praised for the ample physical space it provided to students.

7 Diversity

Black Action Movement

In 1970, U-M students launched the Black Action Movement, a series of three major protests by African American students at the University of Michigan: 1970 (BAM I), 1975 (BAM II), and 1987 (BAM III). The protests enlivened the entire campus community and sought to increase minority enrollment, increase financial aid to incoming minority students, and establish a Black Student Center to foster community among black students.

Dur­ing BAM I, over three hun­dred pro­fes­sors and teach­ing assis­tants can­celled classes and many depart­ments were shut down. The uni­ver­sity gave approval to the essen­tial demands of increased minor­ity aid, ser­vices, and staff, and agreed to work toward a goal of 10% African-Amer­i­can enroll­ment by 1973.

8 Shuffling

Shuffling the Deck: Art & Design, Architecture Separate

In 1973, the College of Architecture & Design performed a self-study to determine the best course forward for creative studies to thrive at U-M. The key recommendation that came from the study was that art and architecture be divided into autonomous schools. The Art School curriculum would explore new media and employ community outreach programs, use exhibitions and lecture to disseminate knowledge, and emphasize interdisciplinary education. The recommendation was adopted and in 1974 George Bayliss took the reins as the first dean of the new School of Art.

9 X Acto

Art in Crisis

In the early 1980s, the School of Art was asked to cut 25% of its budget to assist the university in a reallocation of $20 million. In March of 1983, students made their most public statement of support for the School of Art when — with coaching from the popular professor Ted Ramsay — they held a series of protests on campus. Students marched in silent military formation and dressed uniformly in black with the word ART pinned to their chests. At the call of a whistle, one student would wave a giant replica of an X-ACTO knife to “cut down” 25% of the group, who’d fall to their knees. Regional press covered the protests broadly. While some cuts were still made, they were much less significant than originally proposed.



In the early 1990s, the School of Art embraced the global trend toward computers and networked technology by opening courses in these subject areas for students and faculty. The courses went by the name MouseTRAP (Technical Resources for Arts Persons). During this time, the school also expanded their definition of art by taking on faculty with completely different backgrounds. It was during this time that the school hired its first computer engineer to teach new ways of thinking about art and design in the classroom.

11 Art and Design

Name Change: Art and Design

The name of the School changed from School of Art to School of Art and Design (approved at March 1996 Regents meeting).

12 Speaker Series

A Speaker Series is Born

Penny W. Stamps, a 1966 alumna of the School and founder/principal designer of the Boston-based firm Penny W. Stamps Interiors, felt strongly that being in the midwest was no reason for art and design students at U-M to forgo meaningful connections and networking with professional, world-class creative practitioners. In 1998, Stamps generously founded the newly established Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitors Series.

In 2000, the series became reg­u­lar­ized as the weekly cam­pus hap­pen­ing at the his­toric Michi­gan The­ater we know and love today: The Penny W. Stamps Dis­tin­guished Speaker Series. The series is free and open to the pub­lic but is also a required course for all art & design stu­dents at U‑M, with oppor­tu­ni­ties to con­nect with the speak­ers dur­ing their cam­pus visit.

13 One Major

Move to One Major: Art and Design

In 2000, under the leadership of the new Dean, Bryan Rogers, the School re-imagined its mission and curriculum. Media-specific concentrations were eliminated, there was an expansion of tenure/tenure-track faculty hires, international travel became a requirement, and students assembled interdisciplinary courses based on their own interests, all graduating with a single major: Art and Design. The objective was to equip students with a multi-purpose tool kit of conceptual and practical skills and cultural awareness that could prepare them for a wide array of creative practices.

The 2008 accred­i­ta­tion by the National Asso­ci­a­tion of Schools of Art & Design con­cluded: The vis­i­tors found every aspect of the pro­gram, cur­ricu­lum, stu­dents, fac­ulty, exhi­bi­tion venues, and lec­tures excit­ing… All agreed that if there were an option to start over from scratch, this is the pro­gram that would be built…the School of art and Design and the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan have cre­ated an oppor­tu­nity to lead the aca­d­e­mic con­ver­sa­tion in art and design in this country.”


A New Era: The Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design

The year 2012 marked the begin­ning of a new era for the school: Gunalan Nadara­jan suc­ceeded Bryan Rogers as Dean, and 1966 alum­nus Penny Stamps and her hus­band Roe Stamps ini­ti­ated a $40 mil­lion com­mit­ment to the School of Art & Design. This remark­able gift made Penny and Roe Stamps the most gen­er­ous donors in the School’s his­tory and among the most gen­er­ous bene­fac­tors to any art and design school in the United States. On Sep­tem­ber 20, 2012, as a ges­ture of grat­i­tude and recog­ni­tion, the Board of Regents renamed the School the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design — or, sim­ply, the Stamps School.

Look­ing Forward

Stamps Dean Guna Nadara­jan on what the future holds: A decade from now, I envi­sion the School as a nation­ally and glob­ally rec­og­nized leader in art and design edu­ca­tion of a dif­fer­ent kind. Soon, we will occupy a unique edu­ca­tional niche and func­tion as a defin­i­tive part of the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan. We will achieve that sta­tus by explor­ing a future for cre­ative edu­ca­tion that goes beyond the nar­rowly defined world of art and design, a future that embraces the poten­tial of cre­ative prac­ti­tion­ers to be active par­tic­i­pants in the cre­ative economy.”