On a chilly evening in December, students from the School of the Arts (SOA) were heating up the live music scene in Spartanburg. With an eclectic set list including violin sonatas, Beatles covers, and quirky choreography set to Rodgers & Hammerstein lyrics, the show was enthusiastically received by its Converse audience – along with many astonished regulars at the Hub City Tap House.
Exploring new opportunities for audience engagement and blazing new trails in the arts is the central focus of the SOA’s new Creativity that Works initiative. Now in its second year, this approach parlays arts talent into lucrative arts careers and is already producing excellent results.
Developed by SOA faculty to complement the in-depth study in each arts discipline that has long been the hallmark of a Converse degree, Creativity that Works incorporates exciting new classes, degree programs, and opportunities for students in art, theatre and music to shine. With an emphasis on the soft skills that ultimately help an aspiring actress, musician, or artist get a gig, the SOA faculty work on professionalization from the moment a student arrives on campus.
Anastacia Hutchinson, who is developing an individualized major in Theatre, English and Special Education, discovered new prospects for her future through the Arts Foundations courses that define the SOA’s first year of study.
“Interdisciplinary Foundations gave me the chance to collaborate with other art majors, renew my personal brand, and map out my goals in social advocacy and arts leadership,” she said. “I was placed in an awesome ‘pod’ with studio art and music majors in which we collaborated on real-life projects that provided diverse creative perspectives. We learned how other artists think, and this made me think differently about my own work. Seeing things differently is what makes a great performer, and I am definitely developing that skill.” In the second phase of the foundations coursework, Hutchinson and her peers learn from alumnae and other artists with successful careers in music, art, theatre and dance.
Interdisciplinary Foundations gave me the chance to collaborate with other art majors, renew my personal brand, and map out my goals in social advocacy and arts leadership.
Creativity that Works also has a strong experiential learning component to help students shape their aesthetic as creators, including international study travel, faculty-mentored research and internships in the field that they aim to enter.
Dr. Susanne Gunter, Chair of the Department of Art & Design, observes, “Working with potential employers provides valuable experience and builds resumes toward acquiring future work. Every student has opportunities for internships, clinical or teaching experiences, depending upon the degree program. We are forging community partnerships with businesses, agencies and institutions across the Upstate and beyond.”
Last summer, Caitlin Conneely ’18 interned at the Tryon Fine Arts Center, where she worked closely with marketing manager and Converse alumna Michelle Fleming ’13. “I challenged myself to explore outside of my traditional area, so I worked in the organization’s administration rather than the technical/ theatrical area,” she said. Her experiences ranged from researching information, writing press releases and updating social media, to supporting the planning and execution for fundraising events and community outreach programs like a juried art competition. “I now have a better understanding of how arts organizations run, what they need in order to be effective, and how they can work with their community and use volunteers to enhance their events and program development. This internship helped me get my foot in the door and understand how to use my skills in the arts to help build a better community.”
As for our live monthly music series at the Hub City Tap House, this seemingly odd approach of taking music students to a pub has proven to be an incredibly rich learning lab. “Arts on Tap,” coordinated by Dr. Chris Vaneman, Head of the Petrie School of Music, is an avenue for reaching out to find new audiences. “Every day it gets easier for people to sequester themselves in front of their computer screens and mainline their own personal Net ix queue,” Vaneman says. “Live performing arts get people together and create community; they build shared experiences and life-giving connections among people. We artists have to be willing and able to go where the people are and give them those experiences. By mixing up music styles and genres, we give audiences the chance to get to know stuff that’s outside of their own personal zones of familiarity, and that’s really exciting.”
As amplifiers, microphones, and lighting instruments are taken down at the Hub City Tap House and students celebrate a great set, the SOA faculty enjoy knowing these students are prepared to deal with far more than just stage fright. Converse students are ready to turn their passion into their profession.
Originally published in The Converse Magazine.