Friday, October 29, 2010

Remember that presentation I was doing?

Well, yesterday I presented it at the ICFAD conference here in Sunny Sarasota.  Aside from one blustery Dean from an unnamed school, it was very well received!  There is a growing sense that the way we've been designing curricula in the the Higher Ed Arts is becoming less and less relevant, and that we've got to come up with ways to develop the following skills- This is the skill set I came up with during my research.  Here's my full presentation (You may need to download it and open it with Adobe.  Google docs is experiencing a bit of the snark tonight)

Here's the conclusion I reached:

Based on this research and recent news items, we need to turn out
artists with the following skill set:
 The ability to make their art connect with today’s adult ticket buyer
 Critical Thinking skills to evaluate how and why to make the arts relevant to today’s
 Speaking Skills to articulate why they are passionate enough to dedicate their life
to their art
 Writing Skills to communicate via internet and social media to their current and
potential audiences
 The ability to communicate visually. (Museums’ attendance is up! People like ideas
communicated visually)
 Entrepreneurial skills
 Community Engagement Skills to embed art in every part of our society
 Business skills to run and/or participate in a start up Chamber Ensemble/Theatre
Company/Artist Collective/Dance Company (501c3, or hybrid other)
 The ability to translate their highly skilled art form into something an amateur can
understand and appreciate
 The ability to teach adult learners
 The ability to research and advocate for their art
 Cultural Sensitivity to understand how the arts fits into different cultures in the US

I then provided 6 curricula in undergraduate music performance to show that there WAS room for more course work and that some schools ARE doing just that: Cornish, Longy and Berklee.  Some are not.

But I got some GREAT ideas-  How can we incorporate and teach these skills in OUR CURRENT classes?  We do NOT have to reinvent the wheel, but we do have to teach our students skills that will help them thrive in the current arts environment and create the future.  We cannot continue to teach only what we WERE taught, because faculty do not want to change or because this stuff is hard.  It SHOULD be hard.  If it weren't everyone would do it.

There are some terrific solutions to this issue out there.  Cross listing courses with different schools in the university to open up arts for business majors and business for arts majors.  Some schools (UConn, Case Western) have begun partnerships with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and are having Business students produce the concerts of student led orchestras as an exercise in marketing and branding.

There is a very real sense here at this conference that we are poised as deans and Asst/Assoc deans of arts schools to do this work, that we are uniquely suited to taking this on.  I agree, but we may need some help getting out of our own way first.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Labor Day, School is back in session and I'm writing more stuff


 One of the blogs I follow is Artful Manager, through the arts journal digest, and if you have an interest in the arts and how they are managed, run, conducted (small, slight intentional pun there), it's well worth following.  Recently this post caught my eye.

A new book by Bill Sharpe discusses the concept of multiple economies, and how the arts are the "currency" of the Life experience economy.  Also is the art for art's sake concept validated in a way I've not heard before.  I plan on checking it out.

Having lived in and around academia for most of my adult life (let's just skip over the 3 year stock broker period shall we?  Thanks.), I am once again at my professional "new year", and it the words of Matt McConahey in Dazed and Confused "I keep getting older, but they just stay the same" Matt meant the high school girls, I mean the college students I deal with.

One recent conversation with a well meaning, yet slightly irate 2nd year grad student who was ranting to me about the new, stricter attendance policies in the school orchestra got me thinking.  His argument was "THEY want us to get jobs, but then don't let us out of orchestra to take the audition!"  I gently (and with no smirk, HONEST!) explained to him that the point of a degree was not a job.  It was to get an education.  The point of a master's degree is a mastery of research and applying the knowledge of a particular subject.  Sure, the classes provided in score analysis, music history and theory, performance practice and research AS A BONUS help with a music job.  However, if your only goal was to get a job in an orchestra full time (which the numbers that I've always heard, but haven't had time to actually research is less than 3% of our music majors will actually get that full time job within 5 years of graduation) then you could just as easily take lessons and stay home and practice every day.

This, quite frankly, rocked this student's world.  "You mean, it's not to get a job?"  nope, it's not.  It helps, and employers of musicians like to see that you've studied with some good teachers, at good schools, as you PROBABLY have then been instructed on how to act in the orchestra, and being taught professionalism, but as it's the audition that determines who gets in the orchestra, then well, a degree doesn't really matter.  (Check the roster of the CSO, of the bios that list degrees, there are a few who didn't study anything close to music performance).

It was a complete revelation to this student.  And it's a conversation I have every year at least once.  The funny part to me, was that by holding this student accountable to the school orchestra's rehearsal schedule, we were teaching him the professionalism he was trying so hard to demonstrate through going to an outside audition.

I THINK he got it, but it may take a few more times of him and his fellow grad students bumping up against the wall before they really take it to heart.

Perhaps one of the things we need to be teaching is exactly what this expensive master of music (or mfa or whatever) is for.  It's not needed to be a performer (necessarily), it IS needed as a credential to teach.  Funny, that never occurred to this student either. . .

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Assumptions, damn lies and statistics

So in my morning perusal of higher ed blogs and notes, I came across this post on the Innovations blog on the Chronicle of Higher Ed website.

And I've thinking about how quickly a "common sense" assumption can lead to "everybody knows this" when it's just not true at all.

Because when I read this headline, "fewer Low-income students going to college" I thought, well, sure, I handle financial aid issues for the performing arts students at the University I work for, and the low income students are always having trouble.  That leads to, thinking about the conversations I have every April and May with students and families who have limited resources, and who are asking my school (and me, since I'm on that front line) for more resources to help them achieve their dreams, and I have to say "you can't afford to come here".

Then I think about how nice it would be if money wasn't a factor for these students and we could have a school that educates artists without saddling them with debt so that they could go be artists.

Except that I didn't have any debt from undergrad (thanks Mom and Dad!) and I didn't go be an artist, well not at first. and not ultimately.

But back to the wrong assumption-  The article is actually about a report that hones in on this point: "that among those who had taken Algebra II, the proportion of low- and moderate-income students enrolling in four-year colleges immediately after high school was much lower in 2004 than in 1992."

So the population we're studying is those that took Algebra II, what about those that didn't take Algebra II?  Perhaps those students attended colleges that didn't require Algebra II (I've worked for them, the performing arts doesn't require math for many majors, I haven't taken a formal math class since high school, and statistics was so much more fun than math).  Then there's the other qualifier- enrolling in 4 year colleges immediately after high school.  They could have attended a community college, or taken a year off.  Or they didn't actually go to college, but it's pretty impossible to tell based on this report and it SURE isn't possible to tell this based on the misleading headline.

How does this relate to higher ed arts?  Well, we assume that we're preparing students to be artists, but we've prepared them to do what? Be an entrepreneur whose field is the arts? Be an an orchestral musician? Be a piano soloist superstar? Be on stage at the Lyric Opera? Be an educated member of society? 

Because "everybody knows that we're preparing students to be artists" at the college where I work, but are we really?  How do we on the inside of academia know what it's like outside of academia when we've never been anywhere else?  I used to think my time in the private sector was a huge mistake as it took me off the path to getting ahead in my academic career, now, I'm not so sure.

Perhaps all we can assume is that we're teaching them about their art, but are we preparing them to think on their own enough to handle whatever curveballs come their way?  Because if my life had gone the way I thought it would during my college years, I would be the contrabassoonist of the Chicago Symphony, and I would be flying a jet car to Symphony Center for rehearsal.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Nothing kicks your butt like. . .

your own big mouth and a deadline-  Yesterday I proposed the following presentation topic to the programming chairs of the October 2010 ICFAD conference (ICFAD is NOT a Godzilla foe- "I am ICFAD! Destroyer of worlds and BFF of Megalor!  Fear me Godzilla!" rather it is the International Council of Fine Arts Deans, a great group of arts administrators who do good work).

Ahem, anyway, here's the topic-

Title: Are we preparing our student artists for the world we remember or the world that is?

Higher education exists as a paradox of both creating a future society and reflecting a current society.  Changes in the professional arts environment and how the arts are perceived, attended, and supported has implications for the curriculum being taught in our higher education arts institutions. Recent research studies and data sets from the NEA and the Americans for the Arts National Arts Index are starting to provide insight to how the US perceives and values it's art.  As the incubators of the next generation of artists, are we providing them what they need to thrive in this new world?

So the next few months I'm going to be honing in on this.  The first step is to gather curricula from established programs.  This has gotten easier as most schools post these things online, either as separate documents, or via online catalogs.  So some digging around the internet should be a good place to start.

But if you're lurking about on this blog and want to help- send me links to any schools you think I should look at-  I'm going to start with these, because I've either attended them, or worked at them (or both!)- Northwestern University's School of Music, Dept of Dance, School of Communications (theatre), Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts (Div of Dance, Music, Theatre, Studio Art), U of North Texas (School of Music), Longy School of Music, Texas A&M Commerce Dept of Music, Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts (Music and Theatre).

I think the second step is to look at the NEA's recent findings and the findings noted in the National Arts Index and identify some characteristics/skill sets/competencies that our students need and compare them to what we're teaching them. 

But that's just where I'm going to start.  I welcome suggestions from any and all.  I've heard that sometimes the comments section doesn't work, so if you are having trouble commenting, feel free to email me directly at  I'll update what I find here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Student Financial Aid reform- monetizing majors

The Chronicle of Higher Education has started a new blog about innovations in higher ed, and includes some big time names in the higher ed policy world.  And I read this and try to interpret larger policy issues about higher Ed for relevance to the arts higher ed world.

Here's one that touched off a thought- There has been an idea floating around for centuries about the concept of investing in students.  So an entity pays for (as an investment) a student's education, and that student agrees to a garnishment on their wages for a set time to pay it off.  In the 1600's this was called "indentured servitude". 

The link above talks about how fine arts and history majors would not have as large a return on investment as say a business or engineering major. So bigger investments in "safer" majors, and perhaps smaller investments in acting majors.  But if you invested in Tom Hanks when he was at Cal State-Sacramento, HUGE return!

This thought is an interesting one, and while we pretty much do this (find me any alumni with student loans that DOESN'T feel like an indentured student), it once again raises the question of value and differentiating values in different fields of study. 

Are future earnings, the ONLY value of a bachelor degree?  Of course not. But that's the metric that gets tossed around ALOT. 

Student satisfaction changes as they see the degree they attained through the lens of years and experience.  How do we really measure what a degree is worth?  I can appreciate much of my music performance degree, and I recognize the parts that didn't help or were detrimental.  But how many of us can point to an exact metric of what their degree is worth?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Disruptive Innovation?

This is a great article on changing the language of Arts Fundraising-

" The problem is that art—especially contemporary art—is, among other things, a form of disruptive innovation. That is precisely what makes art attractive to today’s younger, enterprising benefactors. Moreover, art itself has been subjected to disruptive change. New technologies and globalisation are rapidly transforming not only the content of creative work, but also the modes of cultural participation that had remained more or less constant since the 19th century, until recently."

Are we training our artists to not only create disruptive innovation, but talk about it so that it reaches the audience that can help sustain it?  Institutions that safeguard our culture and heritage (Large, established symphony orchestras, for example) are important and necessary, but less than 3% of the musicians we graduate will find work this way.  How are we incorporating disruptive innovation for the remaining 97% so that they can continue their art in the world?

A final quote on this Friday afternoon-

"Arts advocates should also consider what students of political rhetoric have long accepted: that people aren’t always won over by cerebral arguments. They are moved to act by big ideas and deep emotions."

Are we teaching our students to find their big ideas and communicate their deep emotions?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Does it cost too much to be an educated person?

The Chronicle of Higher Education publishes both Higher Ed news and Opinion.  There's a debate brewing about how the value of a college degree is lessening.  With the cost of education rising (despite some folks arguing that the net tuition rate is lower due to the cost differential lowering.  I need to see more data before I concede that point), and the emphasis more and more being placed on the economic viability of an education, it would seem that for those students and family for whom college is a huge economic stretch, the school that can get you the job is the best school.

This begs the question, is it only the wealthy who can get a well rounded education?  Can only those who can afford to pay for a liberal arts degree with no direct economic advantage (other than the ability to expose young minds to the arts and sciences and critical thinking, and great ideas) get this kind of education?

Because as I dig into music and theatre conservatories and their curriculum, and how there is very little room for the liberal arts, I wonder are they just artistic trade schools?  And if they are, are they really doing a better job of educating our future artists for the world they will actually enter, and not the world artistic academia WISHES for (or is so out of date with, that they are educating students for a past reality), than their counterparts at universities with a stronger liberal arts core?

So do conservatories REALLY turn out more employable artists?