Arts integration remains a top priority for UA officials

by Robin Mero ([email protected]) 1,719 views 

Adrienne Callander, assistant professor of arts entrepreneurship at the University of Arkansas, conducts her seminar, Social Justice and the Arts, at the Station, a downtown Springdale teen “collaborator” operated by the Teen Action Support Center. Pictured at right is Kevin Fitzpatrick, director of the Community and Family Institute, and professor in the department of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Arkansas. (photo courtesy Kayla Crenshaw/University of Arkansas)

The integration of arts into curriculum across the University of Arkansas campus has begun, with the first professor being cross-appointed between the Sam M. Walton College of Business and the School of Art.

Arts integration is growing in favor within higher education, producing students who are excellent collaborators, are innovative and empathetic, and can solve cultural and business problems — qualities highly prized in the workforce. The UA also joined dozens of research universities across the U.S. by partnering with the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities.

Known as A2RU, the alliance helps universities integrate artistic approaches into STEM/M (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine) disciplines, in order to advance innovation and develop soft skills that address deficiencies in today’s workers, many of whom are highly skilled but lack cultural empathy and skills for communication and teamwork.

At the UA, integrating arts into curriculum across campus is one of the top priorities, ripened by a $120 million gift in 2017 by the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation establishing the School of Art. The visionary gift calls upon UA colleges to mingle and expand with the art school, and to co-establish dual degrees and majors and minors. Arts are seen as the hub of a wheel, buoying creativity and innovative practices in all programs and colleges.

“A vibrant arts school has the ability to lift the culture of creativity across entire campuses and add new dimensions to teaching and research across many disciplines,” said Provost Jim Coleman.

A2RU research shows that incorporating artistic practices into coursework at a research university produces students who are more empathetic and engaged in their communities, who take leadership positions, are more likely to vote and are strong collaborators.

Studying art certainly can involve painting, acting or creating sculpture. But it also encompasses the exploration of ideas, creative activities, working in mediums other than text, engaging with others to address social issues, and using art as a tool to communicate and solve problems. A2RU supports only research universities, because they are difficult places to integrate arts, said Maryrose Flanigan, A2RU associate director.

“They are historically bureaucratic, slow moving ships with distinct silos that were designed to stay independent,” Flanigan said. “Changing a culture takes a long time, and this is definitely a long game.”

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is advising that colleges and universities integrate arts and humanities into curriculum for STEM/M to enrich and improve learning, Flanigan said. Specialization and isolated disciplines are discouraged.

“The latest report from the National Academy said folks coming out of universities are amazingly trained in their disciplines but are lacking in connecting the dots and in social and human aspects,” Flanigan said. “Deep disciplinary work is absolutely valuable but won’t solve all the complex social problems we are facing. Employers say many employees do not know how to collaborate. We need exposure to differing perspectives, to learn to listen, to put perceptions at bay, to be able to wait.”

The first cross-appointed professor on the UA campus is Adrienne Callander, who joined the UA last year as a visiting professor. The night before classes were to begin last fall, faculty gathered to learn of the Walton endowment, she said.

“At a time when the arts are under siege, art here is supported in a remarkable, unprecedented way,” she said.

Callander is tasked with developing dual programs between business and art. She recently learned she is being promoted to tenure track next fall.

“The UA is setting a precedent,” Flanigan said. “I see cross appointments and [Callander] getting tenure as a pretty major signal to attract talent. I see that as very progressive.”

Callander is already teaching courses that straddle art and business curriculums, and next semester she will introduce an arts entrepreneurism class in the business college. Her courses “give business students more opportunities to incorporate creative thinking in their studies, and art students the opportunity to take hold of business tools,” said Todd Shields, dean of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, which is home to the School of Art.

“The world is interdisciplinary. You don’t have to become an artist or businessperson,” Callander said.

To illustrate, she described a Master of Fine Arts student who earned an undergraduate degree in graphic design and minored in public relations, is interested in agriculture and issues of food insecurity, and along with an electrical engineering friend developed a product and took it to market.
“She can speak business, engineering and art,” Callander said. “The entrepreneurial process serves art. You have your invention. Are you ready for the world to affect it? There may be another thing to add, so we explore: Is art fitting its market?”

Callander is also teaching a class in social justice theory, guiding students to develop strategies to support a local nonprofit, and to interact with the community that agency serves. She says the coursework develops cultural humility and, concurrently, teaches business practices. Dean Matt Waller of the Walton College said art is central to business today.

“Storytelling — whether in words or in images — is key to how business men and women operate in a connected, media-driven world,” he said. “Social media apps, such as Instagram, are all about images, and businesses and business students need to be educated in these areas to thrive.”

The School of Art still needs a director. A first round of interviews in the summer did not produce a candidate, so the university is updating the job description and assembling a search committee before advertising again. In the meantime, two professors are serving as interim director and interim associate director to guide the program forward.

Integrating art and humanities into educational experiences will better prepare graduates for life and work, the National Academies report stated.

“There’s a common phrase, ‘You’ll get hired for your IQ, and fired for your EQ,’” said Stacey Mason, founder of Improv Lab in Bentonville, whose workshops help employees in corporate America become more innovative and fast-thinking decision makers. Her clients range from the global Schneider Electric to Hitachi in Silicon Valley, the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, John Brown University and Saatchi & Saatchi X.

“Integrating art and business is at the heart of the work that I do,” Mason said. “All of the business units that call me, the No. 1 thing they want is for their teams to be more collaborative. The world is designed today around big data, digital and disruption, and everything is rapidly changing. We’re quickly leaving people behind, and businesses need skill sets that matter, such as looking at problems from different perspectives in order to solve them.”

Artistic, creative endeavors can be transformational for education and business, Mason said. But she cautioned, “We want things that are easily measurable, and nothing that happens in the art world is measurable.”

Mason has worked with elite high school students in Northwest Arkansas, and she said the immaturity she observes is disturbing.

“There is a serious gap in their ability to negotiate, chat, debrief. Those skills aren’t just lacking. They are absent,” she said. “Emotional intelligence is where perspective lives. But it’s not just the younger generation. We have super smart leaders, but they don’t necessarily play well with others.”

Jim Mikula, a 19-year recruiter for Cameron Smith & Associates in Rogers, also sees the gap.

“Emotional intelligence is huge,” he said. “How well people do in an office environment, whether they play well with others. Collaboration, people skills, self-awareness. The need is that much greater since technology has become such a big part of the workplace. Sure, companies need specific skills — such as someone who is strong analytically — but they’ll hire the person who knows how to work through difficult situations and deal with conflict. I’m impressed if the UA is trying to teach this.”

While the word “art” doesn’t appear in the UA’s long-term strategic plan, one of its guiding principles is to “embrace collaboration and interdisciplinary pursuits to stimulate innovation in approaches to teaching and learning.” Those goals were established in 2016, before the Walton gift to the art program.

The university doesn’t have a defined implementation schedule for arts integration, but it is supported by top leadership and, over time, will emerge as part of the planning process across campus.

Callander’s cross appointment “embodies a collaborative spirit and willingness to engage integrative partnerships,” Shields said. “When we network and communicate across disciplines, we encourage new perspectives and potentially groundbreaking ideas.”