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Future Shock

Colleges of the Arts and Artisans

Inspiring the new creative economy
University Business, March 2012
artist painting
Colleges and universities are driving forces behind emerging creative arts communities. Photo by See-ming Lee

Futurist Richard Florida moved the needle with his book The Rise of the Creative Class (Basic Books, 2002)—establishing creativity as a 21st century learning and earning skill, and a driving force of economic growth, jobs creation, and cultural enrichment in today’s competitive global society.

Consumer demand for artisan-driven products and services is transforming rural communities into a new kind of creative collegetown. These arts enterprises create a positive stimulus for attracting ecotourism revenues, creating sustainable jobs, and vetting the next generation of community-based artisans. Institutions are stripping down their curricula, often in favor of narrow, traditional, skills-based preparation typically believed to produce high standardized test scores. That said, several entrepreneurial colleges and universities are doing just the opposite. Institutions like Greenfield Community College (Mass.), The State University of New York at Potsdam, and Prescott College (Ariz.) take a dynamic approach to arts teaching, learning, and helping students adapt to changing global forces.

In a culturally diverse region of artisans and artists lies Greenfield Community College. It hosts one of Western Massachusetts’ premier fine and visual arts programs, with concentrations in photography, video, painting, drawing, and computer arts. Several programs create new jobs in specialty vocations ranging from blacksmithing and stoneware to glassblowing and polymer clay creations. We learned from President Bob Pura and Art Department Chair Paul Lindale that the college has found a niche as a pipeline for future artists and artisans. College art festivals stimulate local restaurants and shops.

Or consider New York’s public arts institution SUNY Potsdam. It offers several programs in the arts, including studio art, visual arts and art education. Perhaps most unique is the college’s ceramics program—where faculty and student art works have been featured in museums and galleries throughout the region and beyond. We learned from Art Department Head Mark Huff that Potsdam takes an integrative approach to arts education, focusing on developing well-rounded graduates and providing hands-on learning opportunities for students.

Located at the center of National Forest lands, lakes, and mountains in Arizona’s Quad City area, Prescott College has a unique focus on environmental studies, outdoor education, and community arts. Learning takes place in the classroom, at museums, and in studios of local artists.

Elbert Hubbard, the nation’s premier purveyor of arts and crafts, once opined, “Art is not a thing, it is a way.” Colleges and universities like Greenfield, Potsdam, and Prescott are driving forces behind emerging creative arts communities—expanding local tourism, regional economic opportunities, and jobs growth for students, artists, and artisans.

James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.