Monday, October 15, 2012

Why Are We Here?

COD Concert Choir
This week on the Yahoo Answers site Amanda asks, “Does College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL, live up to its hype? It is supposedly one of the best community colleges in the country, but is it anything more than just a pretty campus? How is the quality of education?” I would tell Amanda if you were considering study in the Fine and Applied Arts (FAA) look at two things. First, our faculty, I’ve never seen a community college with the breadth and depth of talent that College of DuPage (COD) has. Our full and part time faculty have MFA and Doctoral degrees from top tier schools (Universities of Illinois, Texas, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern University, the School of the Art Institute...). Many COD FAA faculty are working artists exhibiting, performing, designing, composing and creating work professionally. Secondly look at the work our students produce. Attend a theatre production, a portfolio night, a film screening, or a concert and you’ll see work on par with any undergraduate institution. I realize these are qualitative and subjective measures and our society and administrations want quantifiable proof. In the business of academia the success of a program is measured in enrollment, completion, transfer and employment data. It’s hard to put something as complex as art making into a simple box. The measure of an artist is not whether they completed a program its whether their web-design communicates well for their client or if their music moves the listener. Amanda, I would tell you to talk to people and look at the work and you’ll see a school that is better than hype.

Most community members never see the important work we do and the primary reason we are here, but this next two weeks it will be on display. The MAC will present the Faculty Recital, Community Band concert, Mid-term Student Music Concert, Community Jazz Ensemble Dance, Chamber Orchestra Concert, and open College Theatre’s production of The Nerd and a student gallery art exhibit. College of DuPage is an academic institution first and the people who are the McAninch Arts Center work tirelessly to support the students and faculty in Fine and Applied Arts. Students see that in a warmly lit stage set with chairs and music stands, scenery and costumes for their production, a professionally exhibited gallery show, a program and a ticket for the concert and a welcoming theatre for friends, family and community to support their work.

Many of the students enrolled here will use their time at College of DuPage to spring themselves into further study in the arts. After performing on our stages and studying and creating in our studios and classrooms many go on to places like Roosevelt University, Illinois State University, Elmhurst College, School of the Arts Institute Chicago and many others. But what use is an arts degree? I frequently get this question, sometimes from fellow educators and administrators. It’s a fair question, should a student receive federally funded Pell grants to pursue an education in the arts and should this education be provided at a community college?  My three-part answer, first, community colleges are the most democratic educational institutions ever conceived of, thank you William Rainey Harper (1856-1906). Whatever your place in our society, whatever your previous educational successes or failures, and whatever your financial circumstances our doors are open to you. What better place to affordably explore a challenging career and life choice like the arts.

Secondly, our students go on to success in higher ed and professionally. Examples:
  • I can point to dozens of working theatre technicians across Chicago that started at COD and earn the industry hourly rate of between $15 and $25.
  • Two recent COD grads in music and theatre received Jeff Awards, Chicago’s more inclusive equivalent to New York’s Tony award.
  •  Graphic Design students work for Chicago design firms, educational software companies, as independent web-designer,...
  • You can tune in to Fox on Tuesdays at 8pm and watch Lamorne Morris, COD alum, on New Girl.
  • Artist and COD alum Vincent Glielmi’s photographs are on exhibit right now in the College’s Wings Gallery.
This success is often down-played as only a few anecdotal stories. It’s true that the arts are a tough road to take. I spent the first five years of my post college life as a working actor and frankly I did not have the fortitude to gut out a life on the stage and screen. In 1992 I transitioned to arts administration and arts education. Whether study in the performing and visual arts leads to a career in the arts is irrelevant  My final point would be that what arts experiences and arts education do produce are creative thinkers and a more socially responsible citizens. I have known this in my gut since I toured rural Arkansas in 1987 performing Shakespeare for kids who had never seen the Bard on stage. A recent study coming out of the University of Illinois and published in Science Daily indicates that participation in the arts (attending and creating) leads to,  “predicated civic engagement, tolerance and altruism.” Frankly, those are qualities I want in my community.

At the recent Midwest Arts Conference the Keynote Address by Russell Willis Taylor President and CEO of National Arts Strategies was wonderfully instructive and if you have time it’s a good read too. One take away anecdote for me was the story of the non-profit arts organization that complains that their arts education programs do not receive the kind of recognition they should from foundations and grantors. A consultant to the organization asks what percentage of your operating budget goes to educational activities? The numbers do not lie and the arts organization’s own budget revealed they spent less then 1% on arts education. They wanted to be recognized for something that clearly was not a priority of the organization. That’s okay. But it should have been a wake up call that they were a symphony orchestra or a theatre company first. So I have to ask the MAC and the College the same question – what do you spend on the arts?

In a previous post (Show Me The Money) the MAC budget was discussed. The break down of the $3.1 million is 35% goes to arts education and 65% to arts presenting. So at least 35% of MAC staff time and 35% of the MAC budget goes to supporting student learning and faculty instruction through performance, exhibition and opportunities to engage with resident/ visiting artists. The College of DuPage has committed $35 million to the renovation of the 165,000 square foot McAninch Arts Center. This year COD funded arts instruction to the tune of approximately $6 million dollars. All of these numbers go to Russell’s point and demonstrate the College can and should be recognized for its support of arts education.

I believe that is an appropriate level of funding for the kind of broad and specialized arts education we provide. Could the programs in Fine and Applied Arts use more dollars, probably. They most assuredly should not be cut. We are here because our community needs creative, socially engaged citizens whether they make their living from the arts or not. You and I want good music, good performance, good design, and good quality of life for ourselves and for our neighbors. That is what art and artists do for us everyday and why I believe a community college should provide this kind of education for the community it serves. What we do beyond educating students is the question addressed in the next post.

Be well

Next: Why are we here? Part II

No comments:

Post a Comment