I had the honor of attending and speaking at the Arts Schools Network national conference focusing on secondary & elementary arts schools last week in Seattle. Definitely new geographical territory for me and really interesting. The focus was “technology” but this seemed to be allied to organizations in the midst of adjusting to a changing world in the arts and in education. I found this to be great food for thought for me as we begin to implement BSA’s Strategic Plan.
The host institution for the event was Cornish College of the Arts, a 100-year-old post-secondary school with performing and visual arts—mirroring BSA’s curriculum closely. They are in the midst of shifting their students’ experiences to the collaborative and to the inter-disciplinary. Along the way I learned that major experimental artists like Merce Cunningham and John Cage had been connected to the school. Both men existed somewhat over the edge of traditional practice and the school is certainly proud of the connection—but they feel the need to continue to make adjustments in curriculum and school structure to serve their students well. Interesting.
Of course Seattle has been home to other notable artists too. Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain are celebrated in the striking EMP Museum designed by Frank Gehry and funded largely by Paul Allen of Microsoft. Across the street is the sprawling campus of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with a beautiful outdoor artwork by Janet Echelman called “Impatient Optimist.”
We heard an amazing woman speak about the importance of the arts in the life of a major university. Monica Ponce de Leon, currently Dean of Architecture at the University of Michigan and soon to fill that role at Princeton, talked about the work she’s done within the architecture school to support the interaction between two ideas:
- Understanding the “handmade”
- Understanding emerging technologies
And in doing so, imagining a different world that will integrate the roles of the artist and the scientist.
She’s also initiated a hi-tech “FABLab” that includes lots of interesting machines, with a focus on robotics in architecture. I was fascinated to hear that she “wants the students to misuse the equipment and make mistakes.” In this context, she finds the way to innovation includes a lot of creative failure. She’s not the first to suggest this!
I was moved to see that Dr. Ponce de Leon featured a quote of the amazing dancer Liz Lerman in her summary. In the quote, Liz suggested that working the unlikely collisions of ideas spark new ideas. Liz came to BSA on Monday to talk to staff about the design of a pilot class focused on interdisciplinary collaboration. We expect to roll out that class in February.
To close, I’ll go back to the work at Cornish. They believe that it’s critical to adjust curriculum and structure to prepare students to thrive in or out of the arts world. Change in any organization is hard, but they appear to have made a lot of progress and students feel well served. I caught some of the thinking about “goals for students” with in my scrabbly notes:
- Develop a unity of knowledge to transcend their own discipline & inform their work
- Engage their vision and talents
- Ignite internal and external collaborative partnerships
- Support creative development
- Collect, analyze & apply qualitative and quantitative data to ascertain the effectiveness of the work
I think the wealth of non-specific, transferrable skills in this list is stunning. It definitely provides food for thought as we work to implement BSA’s Strategic Plan to provide the most powerful education for our students.