Pillars of BSA: Stephen Kent

This year at BSA we have a lot of new staff members, from professors to department heads. Although this means welcoming newcomers to our community, it also means moving forward without some who have been a part of the school since its very inception. One such person is the esteemed Mr. Kent, our now former visual arts department head. The following is a tribute to Mr. Kent– an excerpt from an interview conducted during his final year at BSA.

How many years have you worked here?

36, since the school opened in 1980.

What has it been like working here for so long?

The best part of all is watching alumni evolve. I run into them everywhere. I ask them what they’re doing – that is maybe the most rewarding thing besides the daily contact with teenagers at the school. It has been much better than college teaching. The other thing that’s really nice about having worked here for so long is that it’s like I’m always teaching the same kids, they never get older except when they leave. It’s almost like you don’t have to adjust in a major way. Most of the kids who come here are young, the boys are all goofy. The girls don’t change as much because they come already more mature. But the boys, man, you just have to wait it out.

Were there any students who stood out to you over the years?

Several times I went to court to get kids out of homes where there was abuse going on. That’s hard to forget. It doesn’t all blur together, even though it’s a lot of kids.

What do you consider your legacy?

I was going to consider my legacy my hat collection, but that I’m giving up. My legacy is my former students. What’s nice about that is it’s nothing here at BSA. Things here are changing and they are going to change. My legacy really has nothing to do with something that’s going to change, it’s already out there in the world.

What effect do you hope your work here will have on future students?

Five of my alumni are here at BSA teaching. I hope that the school continues to provide students with the best pre-professional training in the arts. There are many ways to do it. I did it my way. I didn’t ask anyone and I didn’t read anything. I was an art student and I knew what I missed so I was always pleased that students leaving BSA got a better education than I did after getting my BA.

Did you always want to teach?

I came to teaching by accident. I was in graduate school and I got a telephone call and they said they were giving me a teaching fellowship and that my tuition and my room and board would be paid. And I thought, ‘That’s nice, class starts in two weeks. What am I teaching?’. Design. I had to learn stuff quick and I really liked it.

Is there anything that you want me to ask you? Anything that you would like to have out there about your time here at BSA?

I’ve been very lucky, as I have been all my life. The job happened in a very organic way, as all the good things in my life have. I was out of teaching; I had been teaching college for seven years. I got tired of never knowing from semester to semester what my income was going to be, where I was going to be. I had a friend that worked for the city’s health department and there was an opening in a low level position working with mental patients. I worked in a day facility for teenagers who were out of acute care from the hospital. It was my first full time job. I taught drawing to schizophrenics and it was very depressing work. I feared that if I stayed there I would become one of the patients. I would see patients come, they could barely function. You’d have to bring them back [to reality] and they would slowly, slowly get better and then when they got really good (months and months of work), they would get out of the program. Four months later, they would be back in the program and we’d start all over again.

During my second year there I started seeing articles in the newspaper about [BSA] and I wrote a letter saying I was interested. I never sent a resumé. I got a call, an interview. There were two people there [at my interview], a woman and a man. The woman slept through the interview but the man was very engaged and I got the job.

I’ll tell you a story about what got me the interview. I had assumed it was a combination of luck, karma . . . .  They showed me the pile of letters they had, I never remembered writing that many. The man who was interviewing me was particularly interested in one exhibition I had been in. It was a women’s erotica exhibition. I entered a painting under a pseudonym and the pseudonym was a woman’s name, Marie Castor. It just so happened that this guy spoke French . . . castor means beaver, and he thought that was hilarious. The woman did not, she was a feminist and she did not want to hire me. She did ask me why I entered [the exhibition]. I said I was driving to one of my many jobs and on the radio they were advertising the show and they wanted women artists. And I told her I was offended, I could do art that would appeal to women, so I applied. I’m not political at all but I reacted. It was very out of character for me. They put [my painting] in the entrance to the gallery.

Is there anything that you wanted to do but you never were able to because you were working here?

I’ve never had a plan in my life. The only thing that I have planned is my retirement, and I haven’t really planned anything. I just made a decision. It’s the only important decision I’ve made. Things came to me and I either rejected them or accepted them. I’m a great believer in karma. Things have always come to me and I’ve tried to be open to them and if it felt right, it’s what I did. It’s always seemed to work out. The last ten years of my life have not been like that, nothing is coming. I’ve been spoiled, I haven’t been proactive because I don’t know how to be, because I haven’t had to be . . . and I felt stuck, so I just made a decision.

What are you going to do with all your free time now?

I don’t have any plans, deliberately. I will live slower. I will fuss more with little unimportant things, which I like to do. I will do more artwork for sure. I’ll have more time to do it.