Faculty & Research

SP2 and PennDesign Offer Dual Master’s in Fine Arts and Social Work

The School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) has joined forces with PennDesign to offer the nation’s first dual master’s program in fine arts and social work, beginning this fall. The program will offer students the opportunity to earn both a Master of Fine Arts Degree and a Master of Social Work degree over three years of study. It will be the first dual degree program in the country to train students as professional studio artists and social-work practitioners, with a focus on the integration of art and social justice.

The MFA/MSW curriculum addresses the needs of two sets of students: those in the arts who are looking for professional credentialing and a career in social justice, and those in social work who are seeking to integrate the arts into their practice as MSW-credentialed service providers. The creators of the program seek to attract artists and community activists, and expect the program to generate new scholarship and research opportunities and enhance the ability of both schools to recruit students from underrepresented communities.

“I’ve had tons of students through the years who have had to kind of choose between a social work career and an art career,” says Toorjo Ghose, MSW, PhD, associate professor in SP2 and founding director of the Center for Carceral Communities. “Disciplinarily, we have really kind of bifurcated that in the academy.”

But Ghose says connections between art and social work are strong at Penn, despite the lack of a formal connection between the two disciplines. The program sprung out of collaborative work that was already being done between faculty in the two schools, he says.

The proposed curriculum utilizes current classes and current faculty in both SP2 and PennDesign. No new administrative staff, faculty hires, or faculty overloads will be necessary to launch the program. The program expects to launch with three students, and grow as interest expands.

The development of the dual MFA/MSW program overlaps with an “ethnographic turn” in contemporary art, says Ken Lum, professor and chair of the Department of Fine Arts at PennDesign. At the same time, a reciprocal shift is also underway in social work.

“These disciplines have been turning to aesthetic practices in order to question the operations they’ve been under for a long time,” says Lum, who co-curated the public art and history project Monument Lab in Philadelphia in 2015 and 2017.

In spring 2018, for the first time, students at Penn had a chance to take an elective class called Art and Social Work: Art and the Ecology of Justice, co-taught by three faculty members from PennDesign, SP2, and the School of Arts and Sciences. Integrating scholarship and material from multiple disciplines, the class sought to engage MFA and MSW students in the theories, histories and practices of social change that shape—and are shaped by—art practices. The class will serve as an integrative seminar for students in the dual degree program, laying the groundwork for a multidisciplinary approach to social change through art.

“There’s always been kind of a bridge between the two schools, and so it seemed like a very natural way to move forward,” says Ghose. “As natural as the fit seems, I doubt that most universities have seen it yet … I think we will start a trend. It just seems obvious, given the amount of interest I’ve heard in this program from students.”