It was the first of my New Year’s resolutions to bite the dust. “Resolved: immediately after arrival in Rome for January visit to Fellows, write to SOF membership an update to accompany 2009 Dues Card.”
The notion was to build on the momentum the Society of Fellows has seen since just the start of January. Two days before stepping on the plane I had attended a great Philadelphia regional event that architects Stephen Kieran (FAAR’81) and James Timberlake (FAAR’83) hosted at their firm. And at that reception I received an armful of the Winter 2008/9 SOF News from editor James Bodnar (FAAR’80) and design editor Joel Katz (FAAR’03) to tote to the Academy. You should have received yours by now.
So the plan was to take out my laptop on Day One in the AAR’s magnificently restored Library, and hammer out an inspired appeal to past Fellows, Residents and Affiliates to pay their individual dues of $40.00 (gently reminding the membership that the last dues requested were for 2007).
Why dues? A glance at the list of upcoming events shows that there is a lot in store for 2009, starting with a Los Angeles regional gathering on Friday 27 February to coincide with the annual meeting of the College Art Association. Then receptions tethered to the conferences of The American Institute of Architects (San Francisco, early May) and American Society of Landscape Architects (Chicago, September), as well as a rocking Fellows’ Gala 3 December 2009 in New York, chaired by AAR Trustee Laurie Anderson (RAAR’06) and others.
Add to that the work that has started on a new comprehensive directory (electronic and print) of the individuals who have comprised the American Academy in Rome, building on the 1995 Centennial Directory to take us up into the next decade. And of course the SOF News, recast to appear once again as a semiannual publication. In the past year the SOF Council made a major gift to the entire Academy community in Rome to support its “greening” efforts, and also to benefit the Kitchen in its innovative Rome Sustainable Food Project. More is to come: for instance, it is providing digital technology to help the Fellows record their own moments of insight and understanding.
Well, in short, my laptop never made it into the Library. Instead of letter writing, I spent a solid week in lengthy conversations with this year’s remarkable group of Fellows. I visited their studios and studies and attended their programmed (and unprogrammed) events. Profiles of many of these individuals will appear in the coming months here on the SOF Weblog.
Of course, every year the Academy is able to put together a startlingly talented coterie of Fellows, that always manages to animate and even electrify the Via Masina.
What seems distinctive about this year’s group—including also Residents, Affiliates, and Fellow Travelers—is its noticeable generosity of community spirit. Volunteers seem to be everywhere: from the Fellows who help a few hours in the kitchen or provide tech support for each other’s Shop Talks, to the Fellow Travelers who currently are assisting Library staff or running high-level art classes for Academy children.
This spirit of service to the Academy really befits the times. For our part as alumni and alumnae, paying our SOF dues is an expression that the institution, the Rome experience, and the current classes of Fellows all matter and should be supported.
And do consider putting yourself forward for service on the SOF Council. A Nominating Committee is now in formation, and there will be a number of posts on the Council soon to be filled—including President, for I will leaving for Rome in July of this year to start a three year term as Andrew W. Mellon Professor-in-Charge. I count this as a fabulous opportunity, not least since I am convinced that the Academy is in its best shape ever. But it will take everyone’s efforts in the SOF—we are a tiny body, with just about three dozen new members entering per year—to keep the institution on this exciting trajectory.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions about our Society of Fellows. I look forward to hearing from you.