ABOVE: Stephen Grimmer, Celadon Spire Bottle, ceramic.
Cliff Eyland: MAZE is an exhibition that features new tenure-track and one recently tenured faculty. For people who don't know, could you tell us what "tenure-track" and "tenure" mean, and could you tell us about how you became a tenure-track professor?
Stephen Grimmer: Tenure refers to a lifetime-appointment to a university research position. It means that a professor is free to pursue lines of inquiry and study that may prove to be unpopular or discomforting to those in authority without fear of termination. It is an exceptionally high stakes offer on the part of the university and a high stakes undertaking on the part of the researcher. The university has to make sure that the researcher is likely to have a lifetime of meaningful production and publication. The young faculty member (in a tenure-track position) has a short time to demonstrate excellence in research and to establish a significant track record. There is only one chance to go up for tenure; one either is offered lifetime employment or is terminated.
I became a tenure-track professor by accepting a position here at the University of Manitoba. Previously, I held a long-term lectureship at Southern Illinois University. The U of M advertised for a ceramics professor and the description seemed to be describing me exactly. It looked as though U of M was looking for a person who wanted to build the kind of program I had always wanted to run. I threw my hat in the ring, as they say, and here I am!
Cliff Eyland: Do you identify primarily as an "artist" or as a "professor" or both?
Stephen Grimmer: Some days I am Professor Grimmer, and others I am Steve Grimmer, the Ceramic Artist. Some days I switch back and forth: Artist in the morning, professor mid-day, artist at night.
Cliff Eyland: Can you tell us about how you became a professor? As a young artist did you think that you'd become an art professor?
Stephen Grimmer: I guess I didn't think too much about it until I got into grad school and people started telling me I would be a prof one day. My dad was a math prof and my mom taught high school, and so maybe it's in my blood, and I have been accustomed to the academic's lifestyle all along.
Cliff Eyland: What is it like to be an art professor in Winnipeg?
Stephen Grimmer: I have a lot of friends from school who have gone on to be profs, and most of them think I have done pretty well by landing here. I can think of some cities that are lots hipper than the 'Peg, but either you can't afford to live there or the city doesn't have the same amenities. Some of my friends have positions at really prestigious schools but are in weird little towns. Some are in great locations but at weird little schools. A few of us have struck a good balance. We have good students at U of M and the School of Art is it's own entity in the university so we have more control over our curriculum and teaching than other art departments. The city has a pretty happening art scene, though there is a bit of a divide between the Townies and the Gownies in that regard.
Cliff Eyland: Art professors teach, serve on administrative committees and do research. Their research -- that is, their art -- is part of their job, but research always competes with committee work and teaching. How do you reconcile all that?
Stephen Grimmer: My studio is in the Ceramics Building, and my door is often open so students can find me and so that they can see that I am a working artist as well as a teacher. Sometimes I have to close my door and turn all the school stuff off to work, though. The students are pretty good at giving me space when I need it. I tell them, "Professor Grimmer isn't here. You have found Steve Grimmer, the artist. Professor Grimmer will be back in the morning." It's good for a laugh and they get the idea. Lots of my teaching feeds my research and vice-versa, so that's a perk of my job. Committee work isn't too bad usually, and I try to keep in mind that we all have to attend to the nuts and bolts of running the place so we have time to think about the big picture.
There are some artists who can support a family on sales of their work alone, as are there some writers, musicians, and actors who can do the same. I suppose the same can be said for people in the sciences, as well. There are some engineers, physicists, and mathematicians who can support their families purely on sales of their research. Most engineers, though, work for a firm on projects that are given to them by management; they have jobs to support themselves. I am an artist who has a job to support myself. It's a great job, and one that happens to demand that I find significant time to make my own work, but a job none the less.
Cliff Eyland: How is your art related to what you teach?
Stephen Grimmer: Much of what I do finds meaning in process and form. I'm one of the young, old fashioned guys who still thinks that students should learn how to do things well and how to make stuff. I think it's still important to be able to analyze form and talk about it intelligently. In my classroom, we spend a lot of time making things and talking about what we made, how we made it, why we made it, and what we are trying to say with our work. After we get good enough to make whatever we want, we start to ask questions about concept and content first, and about process and form second.
Gallery One One One, School of Art, Main Floor, FitzGerald Building, University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus, Winnipeg, MB, CANADA R3T 2N2TEL:204 474-9322 FAX:474-7605