Arts Across the Curriculum

Recently, and unfortunately, the President of the United States chose to make a disparaging comment about jobs for those who studied Art History in his remarks on “Opportunity for All and Skills for American Workers” on January 30th.  It is mildly understandable, as our economy continues to recover that the President is looking to highlight some practical avenues and approaches to shore up that recovery, but come on, did he really need to bash the arts?  In fact, research has show that those who chose to major in the arts are generally satisfied with their their careers, at least when it comes to meaning and satisfaction.  Of course, those same folks will readily tell you, and the same research showed, that they are not satisfied with their income.  Shocking!

But the arts, and arts content at universities is so much more than majoring or minoring in art history, theatre, music, dance, painting, or some other creative discipline to pursue a career in that field.  More and more colleges and universities are finding creative and pedagogically beneficial ways to integrate the arts into a-typical curriculum and courses, not necessarily for the sake of art itself, but to enhance the learning in that particular field.  I am fine with that, in fact, I encourage it. I think any exposure to or participation in the arts is great.

I want to share with you how a few faculty at BU are integrating arts content across the curriculum in some really interesting ways.  Not everyone will pursue the arts as a career, but at BU we believe that  “Artistic engagement brings immeasurable value to our social and academic development, impacting not only the way we perceive the world but how we approach so many disciplines, from the sciences to the humanities,”says Jean Morrison, University Provost and Chief Academic Officer.  I want to make it clear, I take no credit for this work.  My office, the BU Arts Initiative, is here to support this work where we can, and raise awareness within the university so that others are encouraged to consider possibilities within their field, not just for the sake of the arts, but because we truly believe that study of and participation in the arts enhances ones overall education, regardless of your chosen field of study.  In some of these cases, our office did provide grant funds to assist integrating arts content.  Consider these examples.

Faculty at our Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine are employing visual thinking strategies in training their first year students to build their observational and critical thinking skills. Through this approach every dental student attends the local museum and has the opportunity to practice critical observation skills through art.

An occupational therapy faculty member at the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Services uses a photography assignment to explore issues of health.  Students must take and submit for discussion and participation in a contest, images of participation and health as viewed in three categories, How We Work, How We Live, and How We Play.  The faculty member notes that the photography assignment, “allows students to use a creative medium to depict the power of participation in society as a bridge to health for people, regardless of age or ability.”

Jazz2 At the BU School of Management, if you take Organizational Behavior, and you will, you will inevitably end up seeing and talking about jazz, theatre, and dance.   The lead faculty member, who happens to be married to a visual artist, uses these tools to discuss issues of collaboration, improvisation, and teamwork, skills that he notes CEOs today are looking for.

Each year thousands of students take mandatory writing courses in the College of Arts and Sciences.  For several hundred of those, all their writing assignments are about local art.  Through a program called Arts Now, writing faculty select local art (theatre, jazz, poetry, and museums) and all writing and research assignments are designed around those experiences.  Not only are students learning critical writing skills, but they also have the opportunity to explore some fantastic local art in the process.

And finally, just this past Friday (1/31/14), 12 Phd students in the sciences participated in a day long workshop that included improvisational theatre training.  The training was not to turn them into performers, but to enhance their ability to read an audience and communicate their message effectively with that audience.  The improv games help them understand body language, promote active listening, and provide a more clear and concise message to their chosen audience.

These are just some of the ways that arts skills and content are being used to train students in non-arts fields.   I am fortunate to be at an institution that is working diligently to share these methods, and explore possible new ways to enhance all areas of study through thoughtful, structured arts content.  What is happening at your institution?  Please share in the comments!

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