Arts Adds Steam To Education's Value

Guest Correspondence

Photo courtesy Sarasota Art Museum: Students at The Studios @ SAM.

These days, art, design and culture can be found almost everywhere you look. From the movie and TV series we watch, to the clothes we wear, products we buy, and virtually everything we look at daily on our smartphones. In short, creativity is omnipresent. 

There is one key place however, where creativity is still not ubiquitous. That place, or places more correctly, are too many of our schools, particularly K-12. For some time now, our historical educational system has placed great emphasis on the well-known STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math – these so-called “left-brain” skills that students have needed historically to succeed in their professional lives. But we are getting better now at incorporating what I believe is the most important skill for success in the future by adding an “A” into STEM, making it STEAM. The “A” stands for the arts which focus on developing, nurturing and encouraging creativity.

At Ringling College of Art and Design, we are working to enrich and enhance our students’ lives and professional careers through academic excellence and professional opportunities. But we also go to great lengths to encourage exposure to the arts from an earlier age, during students’ pre-college-years and earlier. 

One of the ways we do this is exactly that: our Ringling College PreCollege Program. This four-week, summer intensive program allows high school students to live the life of a Ringling student on campus. The students select major-related immersions to try out and get a taste of college-level work. We like to think of it as a trial run before the real thing. Think about it, most of us wouldn’t dream of buying a car before test driving it. So why should we expect our students to decide on a college career path before trying it? High school students today have a lot of pressure on them to narrow down their career choice so early on, in order to find their right path through higher education and on into their professional lives. PreCollege enables students not only to test out their creative skills and help solidify that they are making the right decision, but it can also help them realize that an art and design career may not be the path for them. For other students who are looking to take a class or two, we offer those as well as part of our High School Teen Concentrations offered on the Ringling College Main Campus. 

Also for high school audiences, and for children even younger and their families, are classes at The Studios @ SAM. These art-making classes at Sarasota Art Museum are offered to people of all ages and abilities, but many of them are focused on appealing to the younger generations. Courses range from bookmaking and ceramics, to weaving, beadwork, drawing, painting, printmaking, and photography. The past two summers have seen between 250-350 middle- and high-school aged students participating in class offerings at The Studios. Another great opportunity at the Museum is the Teen Arts Council. The TAC is a group of fifteen creative high school students who share a common interest in art and community engagement. This year-long program with a summer intensive offers participants the opportunity to engage with art, culture, and history; develop workplace and team-building skills; and learn about a range of professional options and career paths. 

Countless studies have shown that the arts, especially when cultivated and nurtured at a young age, have so many positive benefits. Some of these include: good mental health and increased engagement, which leads to lower stress levels and feelings of anxiety; an increase in motor skill capacity particularly in young children; aiding in the development of social-emotional and interpersonal skills; helping to improve creative, critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as developing the ability to handle constructive criticism; and, providing a vehicle to learn about, and accept diversity and different cultures. 

Ringling College is committed to providing educational arts opportunities for students of all ages across our local community. Maybe some of these students will end up at Ringling College pursuing an art and design degree and learning how to turn their passion into profession… or maybe they won’t. But our hope is that whatever they decide to pursue in life, they will carry with them the creative skills and life lessons learned through the arts, helping to lead them down the path to success and fulfillment in this new creative world.  

Dr. Larry Thompson is the president of Ringling College of Art & Design.

Photo courtesy Sarasota Art Museum: Students at The Studios @ SAM.

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