Alumni-led group tries to keep College of Visual Arts in St. Paul from closing

  • Article by: Jenna Ross
  • Star Tribune
  • February 22, 2013 - 9:57 PM

Ben Levitz first heard the news on the radio: His alma mater, the little College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, was set to close.

“I was shocked and dismayed,” he said. “Why wasn’t there an alarm bell sounded?”

Levitz is now sounding that alarm. He is president of CVA Action, a group of alumni, parents and others scouting an alternative to closing the college at the end of the school year, as its leaders have planned.

“I think there was a missed opportunity to go back to our larger creative community and ask for the support to bring a plan forward that will keep the college open,” he said.

Leaders of CVA Action got a look at the nonprofit’s books and, although they signed confidentiality agreements, Levitz can say that they disagree with the board’s conclusion that closure is the best option.

Fundraising is just the first step. In a week, the group raised about $54,000 from more than 170 people. They hope to gather a total of $3 million in six months, according to the group’s website.

The bigger goal is uniting businesses, nonprofits and the college’s leaders around a new, forward-looking business plan. Levitz believes the college’s Board of Trustees ought to grow to include more alumni.

On its website (www.cva, CVA Action is posting testimonials, videos and posters for a concert fundraiser next week at the Amsterdam Bar & Hall in St. Paul. On Saturday at noon, the group will hold its first public meeting.

Levitz, who earned his BFA in communication design in 1998, knows that the college he attended might look very different from the one that he hopes will survive. Perhaps the school ought to sell the historic mansion on Summit Avenue that serves as its headquarters. Or maybe it needs to pare back the majors it offers. It might even need to close for a semester, or a year, then, with “a big PR push, come back stronger and better,” he said.

His group benefits from its members’ backgrounds, said Levitz, who founded Studio On Fire, a design and letterpress business. “Creatives are very good at problem-solving.”

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168 Twitter: @ByJenna

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