Christopher Bratton has always been interested in media as a form of education and community engagement, so when he discovered the graduate film program at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts, he instantly appreciated what the campus had to offer.
“I had a long interest in an expanded idea of media work,” says Bratton, who was on faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) when he began his graduate studies. “UWM puts a high premium on the unconventional, nothing bound by the traditions of the media industry, and taking a broad look at what we do as artists, how we contribute to the social world. I wanted to really do something that deeply engaged me with interesting and challenging people.”
He found that engagement working with the Center for 20th Century Studies (now the Center for 21st Century Studies), and along with Film faculty member Portia Cobb, as leading UWM’s Community Media Project, which for the past 17 years has provided artistic programming and outreach for under-served audiences in Milwaukee’s central city by offering free film screenings and film and video workshops to the city’s youth.
Soon after graduation, Bratton co-founded Video Machete, an ambitious program for Chicago-area youth that used multimedia to explore and document stories from diverse communities. He became Chair of the Video Department at SAIC, then Chair of the Film/Video/New media department and eventually served as the college’s first Dean of Undergraduate Studies. In 2004 he was appointed the President of the San Francisco Art Institute. Since 2010 he has served as President of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
“An aspect of my work has always been about institution building; it’s something I care about deeply,” Bratton says. “I’m fortunate to have been part of schools that are leaders in defining contemporary art and culture. They aren’t simply colleges – the work that comes from these institutions is highly experimental and highly relevant. Yes, we are educating students as artists and thinkers, but also more broadly to shape their lives and the lives of others in creative and unexpected ways.”