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Forrest Solis named director of ASU's School of Art

May 17, 2022

The new director of Arizona State University’s School of Art wants to see art and arts education properly recognized for the important role they play in transforming the world for the better.

A painter and associate professor, Forrest Solis said that she believes deeply in the value of arts education and feels fortunate to be a member of the School of Art and of ASU.

She points out that she has numerous colleagues in the School of Art working at the intersection of, for example, art and technology, art and ecology, and art and health care, “but we haven’t really gotten to the place where we’re a central part of the conversation when it comes to use-based research.” 

Solis aims to strengthen the connection between such work and teaching and curriculum, “to get a foothold, and to demonstrate that artists make work that has the ability to advance and change the world. It isn’t only art about social issues that makes a difference. Our faculty are also making advances in material science, environmental science, social science and the applied sciences that will impact our lives and the lives of future generations. Art shapes the world, period.” 

“Forrest Solis is an artist who uses her creativity as a vehicle, in part, to shine light on stories and experiences that are often overlooked or under examined,” said Steven Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, of which the School of Art is a part. “She is equally creative as a leader and academic entrepreneur, building opportunities for our students to tell their own stories, with the support of a world-class faculty and one of the most highly ranked art schools in the country.”  

Appointed interim director of the school in July 2021, Solis worked closely with the school’s staff, faculty and leadership to identify and address organizational structures that contribute to existing disparities. Under her leadership, the school implemented new fair and transparent communications and operational systems. Solis led the updating of the school’s governing procedures and guideline documents to be more inclusive and purpose-driven.

Additionally, she updated the school’s recruitment standards and procedures to require targeted outreach, and she is spearheading a revenue strategy that will fund diversity-focused scholarships, programming and professional development opportunities, as well as support research that amplifies diverse perspectives and empowers underserved populations. 

“The School of Art and the Herberger Institute are on an exciting path for advancing creativity at social scale,” Tepper said. “Forrest has the knowledge, energy and optimism to help us reach more students, engage more deeply across the university and build a technologically empowered curriculum for our next 50 years.” 

Born in Houston and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Solis attended The Chicago Academy for the Arts high school. 

“I’ve been a painter for as far back as I can remember. I was inspired by paintings and drawn into their worlds and the stories they told, but also the mysteries they kept,” she said.

Her parents supported her interest in art “and still do to this day,” Solis said. “They made sure I had art supplies and art books, and they took me to art museums. As a young person, I was obsessed with women, and focused on paintings of women, but of course historically, many of those were painted by men. My first painting role model was Artemisia Gentileschi, particularly the way she used her image in her work.”

Today, Solis’ research is focused on women's issues and addressing inequalities through matters of domestic abuse, patriarchal birth practices and sexual oppression; her current body of work looks at issues of desire and death through an autobiographical lens. 

Solis received her BFA in 2001 from the Kansas City Art Institute and her MFA in 2003 from Indiana University, then taught as an assistant professor of art at DePauw University in Indiana until 2006, when she chose to come to ASU because of its focus on research, and its diverse student population and commitment to access, as expressed in the university’s charter. 

Art shapes the world, period.

— Forrest Solis, director of the ASU School of Art

As the school’s new director, she plans to maintain her focus on increasing diversity and inclusion within the school’s faculty and curriculum.

“I’ve had a complex personal history that gives me insights into the challenges that are shared among people from different socioeconomic, cultural and ethnographic backgrounds,” Solis said. 

Her father, who was Latino, grew up in Texas translating for his parents, who did not speak English. He was the first generation in his family to go to college. Her mother, whom Solis calls “one of the smartest people I know,” did not pursue higher education and raised four children “on her own most of her life, without any support.”

“I recognize my privilege, but I also have a sense of what it is to be different, to not conform to a majority standard,” Solis said. “Education can give you economic mobility, and having economic mobility gives you independence; it gives you the opportunity to get out of bad situations. It gives you the opportunity to say no to things that don’t align with your values. We’re giving students the skills and knowledge to help advance them in their academic and professional careers, but in the end, what we’re really giving them is the ability to fulfill their goals and the freedom to choose to participate in our economy and make an impact on the world.” 

To ensure that students succeed, Solis also plans to prioritize mentorship. 

"Mentorship is hugely important," she said. "Two mentors who were significant to my success are Professor Barry Gealt and Professor Robert Kingsley. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the mentors I’ve had in my life, going back to my high school art teachers, Mr. Stuart and Mr. Rupert. That is one of the most important things we can offer our students besides knowledge — a lifelong relationship with professionals who can guide them. Someone they can connect with when they have to make an important decision, when they don’t know which way to go — a sounding board."

Solis says that the start of the school year this fall will look very different from the one that preceded it.

“This year, we will have grown our faculty by 30%, versus only 5% over the last five years, and we have increased the total percentage of diversity among faculty within the School of Art from 19% to 35%. Most importantly, we have hired our top candidates: brilliant artists and scholars who are excited to join our community,” she said.

One of Solis’ goals as director is to see that faculty diversity matches student diversity. 

“I understand the power of representation,” Solis said. “Having strong women artists as professors in college inspired me and gave me the confidence to imagine myself in that role. Leeah Joo was one of those integral professors who set me on my professional path, and I will be forever grateful.

“We also need to continue to diversify and decolonize our course offerings and curriculum, and we need to increase our community engagement and outreach.”

One notable new hire: Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, who will lead and teach full time within the School of Art’s museum studies program, hold an administrative appointment as the director of the ASU-LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) Fellowship program and serve as the director of Northlight Gallery.

Fajardo-Hill is a British/Venezuelan art historian and curator, with an emphasis on modern and contemporary art and a specialty in Latin American and Latino art. She co-curated the 2017 exhibition "Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985" for the Hammer Museum and is presently co-curator of "Xican – a.o.x. Body," a touring exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts. Fajardo-Hill is developing and teaching a new suite of courses that address issues of representation within art history and museums, including Transformative Exhibitions Since the 1990's: Race, Class, Gender Revised; Modern and Contemporary Latin American Art: A Survey; and Identity Politics & Exhibitions.

“Cecilia is amazing,” said Solis, “and is going to truly advance the museum studies program and the ASU-LACMA Fellowship program.”

The ASU-LACMA Fellowship program, which is a presidential initiative, is completing its five-year pilot and has received approval to bring on a new cohort of ASU-LACMA Fellows. In addition, the partnership is expanding to include local art museums and cultural institutions. 

A new addition to the school’s leadership team is Cristóbal Martínez, as associate director of research and practice for the school. An artist/scholar — and ASU alum — Martínez will work closely with Assistant Professor Cala Coats, who will serve as assistant director of research and education. 

“Cristóbal and Cala will be working in tandem to advance research in education, designing curriculum around pressing questions and creating the conditions for faculty and students to conduct collaborative research,” Solis said. “We want to fulfill the mission of innovation and interdisciplinary research and education by truly connecting with faculty across the Herberger Institute and ASU, as well as with community members.” 

Another of Solis’ priorities is to ensure that the School of Art has up-to-date facilities, technology and equipment for all of its programs. She emphasizes the importance of teaching the latest and most forward-thinking technologies while also honoring cultural traditions and historical practices. 

“We can’t lose that foundation.” Solis said. “It keeps us connected to the past as we move into the future.”

Top photo: Forrest Solis, the new director of ASU's School of Art, sits in front of a painting by Thomas Knight (2020 MFA, painting) in her office, in a portrait taken by Ryan Para (2016 MFA, photo).

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist , Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


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Baby formula crisis shows lack of risk planning, ASU expert says

ASU expert sees more supply chain crises ahead as U.S. avoids risk planning.
May 17, 2022

US must strategically plan for supply chain disasters

The baby formula crisis of spring 2022 has been like a “slow motion car crash” whose unfolding paralyzed the country, according to an expert in supply chain management at Arizona State University.

Hitendra Chaturvedi, a professor of practice in the W. P. Carey School of Business, said the shortage of infant formula that left store shelves empty and parents scrambling to feed their babies was the result of several factors, including inaction.

“It’s like seeing a crash happen in front of your eyes, and as humans, we have a habit of waiting for the crash to happen. It’s going to happen, and when it happens, we run to see if we can salvage something out of it.

“But everything is in slow motion and we let it happen and we don’t stop it. This is the same story.”

Chaturvedi said he sees more supply chain crises ahead. He answered some questions from ASU News:

Question: What caused the baby formula shortage?

Answer: There are four key reasons this is happening.

The first one, the blame goes to COVID. In 2020, when the demand of all the products went down dramatically, manufacturers brought down their production, and suddenly, in 2021, you see a bullwhip effect. For these kinds of products, the demand doesn’t change dramatically, so the factories are not structured to immediately increase or decrease production. They’re very steady.

The second reason was bacteria. Because of bacteria in the Michigan plant of Abbott, I believe four infants got sick and two died, and that caused the FDA to shut downOn May 17, the FDA and Abbott reached an agreement that will allow manufacturing in the Michigan plant to resume in about two weeks. the factory. You could say, “No big deal. We always do recalls. It happens all the time." But why is this such a huge problem this time? The third reason explains this better.

We have all the power in the hands of three big companies – Abbott, Mead Johnson and Gerber. They control over 90% of the market. Abbott alone controls 40% of the market. Narrow that down further and Abbott's Michigan plant controls about 40% of Abbott’s capacity, or 16% of the total market. If that plant is shut down when there’s already a shortage, the impact is easy to imagine. Imagine what will happen. In Texas and North Dakota and South Dakota, you had shelves that were 50% empty.

Q: What was the fourth reason?

A: The fourth point is our own trade policies. Our own FDA has very, very strict requirements on importing baby formula, even if they meet or exceed our food standards.

Then if some of those importers do come through with the right product, there is more than 17% tax on the product coming in. So we are throttling any imports trying to come in.

Q: Why do so few companies produce baby formula?

A: Remember during COVID when we had a meat shortage? You know what happened? More than 80% of meat processing is in the hands of four key processors. The meat processing plants were manned by a lot of immigrants who were working close to each other and many got COVID and many died. So production capacity was cut by 50%.

The problem is not that there weren’t enough hogs or cattle or chickens. In fact, many farmers were euthanizing their cattle because the production plants couldn’t take them.

The issue we’re seeing across the board and where you see problems arise is that there is a tremendous amount of consolidation happening in some industries.

It’s a double-edged sword. It can bring down prices a little bit, but if problems arise, they can raise their prices up and we cannot do anything.

Q: Is there no regulation of that?

A: You’ve already seen the fight in the telecom industry. You’ve already seen the fight in the airline industry. I don’t think baby formula was on people’s radar.

We should be seriously looking at this consolidation trend that will leave consumers with very little choice.

Q: What is the overarching issue?

A: We have no risk-mitigation plan. This is something I teach in my class. This is something you should not do, even to the extent that we do not allow imports from Canada.

If you stop imports and have only three companies manufacturing and then shut the largest factory, it’ s not actually rocket science – it’s like watching a crash happen.

Here’s another point I tell my students: China is completely shut down at the moment. After the first supply chain shortage, we didn’t learn anything. The tsunami is coming, it just hasn’t arrived yet. And we’re not prepared for it. I have been saying this – we have to be on a war footing to diversify our manufacturing.

Q: How should we do that?

A: My take is that we are thinking about the (border) wall completely wrong. We should be thinking about how we create a self-sustaining strategy with Canada, the U.S. and Latin America.

We are not saying, “Let’s get away from China.” But any risk management strategy worth its weight in gold will tell you we need to diversify our risks.

Even after the first supply chain problems we had, do you think we’ve started manufacturing here, or at least have somebody on war footing trying to mitigate the risk? Absolutely not. I don’t see anyone working on it.

We are like an ostrich with its head in the sand saying, “This too will pass.”

We are captivated with the Ukraine war while our supply chain is still extremely weak.

The government runs a program called WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). They are the largest buyer of baby formula. So if I’m in the procurement department and I have only three suppliers, I would have an alternative supply chain or risk mitigation strategy for my supplier base. I would be working very closely on that.

Q: Can the U.S. become a manufacturing powerhouse again?

A: Our labor rates are too high. But yes, some key components should be manufactured in the U.S.  

But we can figure out if Latin America is an option. It’s not an overnight strategy and will take time. If we are able to help them build their economies, their standards of living will go up and we will see less people crossing the border illegally. And we will not be limited only by ships at sea as a mode of transport. We will have land.

And they have now (a) younger generation than even China. Their labor rates are less than China.

We’re not saying to be protectionist. All we’re saying is that in the corporate world, every company has a risk management strategy. Databases are stored in multiple servers so if one catches fire you have a backup. We don’t have a backup.

Top image courtesy iStock

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News