By offering non-traditional arts degrees; connections to local business; and real-world work experience, area institutions of higher learning are playing an important role in the arts.
Volusia County is home to exceptional institutions of higher learning – three of which offer art programs and degrees designed to prepare students of today for the challenges and opportunities they will face tomorrow. These programs are expanding the horizon beyond the paintbrush and canvas, to include the digital arts, graphic design, music, theater, television, photography and more.
Whether choosing the College of Arts and Sciences at Daytona State College for their two year degree and Direct Connect to the University of Central Florida; Bethune-Cookman University’s four year program at the LaDoris McClaney School of Performing Arts and Communication; or Stetson University’s Bachelors of Arts or Liberal Arts degree program, students interested in pursuing a career in the arts have a wealth of options before them.
Advances in technology have made digital arts a popular program across the board. Described as “the use of digital technology as a means of creative expression,” a degree in digital arts is aimed at students interested in pursuing careers in new media, music technology, digital video, 3D animation, graphic design, game design, and audio production. Nathan Wolek, chair of the creative arts department at Stetson University, sees collaboration among students new and developing art disciplines with those focused on traditional art disciplines as a way for both groups to enhance their career opportunities.
“Digital arts is the largest of our programs, but by putting them together we can create better synergy across our arts programs,” said Wolek. “It has also led to a lot to a lot of students majoring in one area and minoring in another area,” he said.
Experience Is Key
Launching a career in any industry can be challenging, especially when a student lacks experience on their resume. Looking to bridge the gap, institutions reach out to build relationships among the business community, in an effort to facilitate connectivity between students and work experience, while offering on-campus work study positions as well.
Daytona State College’s Southeast Museum of Photography, housed in the Hosseini Center on the Daytona Beach campus, offers both work study and internship opportunities to train students, according to museum director James Pearson.
“I try to create tasks based on what they’re good at, that way they get to practice that skill set while giving a service to the museum and getting paid for it,” Pearson says of the work study students.
Stephanie Shaw, a lead museum technician on site, found the chance to participate in the work study program valuable as she pursued her art history degree at the college before completing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Central Florida and her master’s degree at Florida State University in 2017. Her previous work with the museum helped Shaw land her current position after graduation, and she enjoys being able to pursue her passion for art and help oversee the work study program of today, which has grown from eight to 15 students.
“It’s easy to guide somebody when you’ve had similar experiences and even though it’s a different time, I feel like college student struggles have not changed in any way, so we always encourage them. They don’t have to have previous experience, we are willing to train them and teach them to do everything they need to do and to me that’s really important,” she says.
Linking the Business Community to Education
The final piece of the puzzle comes from the business community. Mike Curb, chairman of Curb/Word Entertainment is a successful businessman in the recording and entertainment industry. His dedication to the arts and education can be seen at Bethune-Cookman University and at Daytona State College, where he is noted as a mentor and supporter of the students in the arts programs.
“Our company and our foundation believe very strongly in the concept of private sector/public sector partnerships,” said Curb. “Ultimately, I would love to see shared opportunities between Daytona State and Bethune-Cookman involving programs and facilities. Our goal is to mentor students through our Curb College at Daytona and our Curb Institute at Bethune Cookman,” he said.
Dr. Hiram C. Powell, Dean of the McClenney School of Performing Arts and Communication at Bethune-Cookman University says it’s the combination of curriculum, motivation by the students, and businesses leaders who are willing to create opportunities for growth that helps make students successful.
Adding members of the community, like Matt Chestnut, formerly with Team Volusia and now with Space Florida, to Bethune-Cookman University advisory board helps create an awareness of the area’s talent pool among business professionals within Volusia County and beyond. These relationships have led to internship opportunities for students near and far. Locally, students have interned at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Channel 9 News, and the Daytona Beach Symphony Society. Students have also participated in an international opera internship in Gratz, Austria.
All three institutions have success stories to share. Bethune-Cookman University proudly claims music education graduates Gregory Drane and Dr. Tyron Cooper. Mr. Drane was appointed director of the Penn State Marching Blue Band in 2015. Dr. Cooper, a three-time Emmy award winner , was appointed director of Indiana University’s Archives of African American Music and Culture in 2017. Daytona State College 2007 graduate Brian Kelley is part of the successful country music duo, Florida Georgia Line. And Stetson University’s list of distinguished alum includes Wesley Whatley, a 2002 graduate and an Emmy winning songwriter, Mr. Whatley is currently vice president and creative producer of music and talent for Macy’s Branded Entertainment, working on events such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“Everything we do is with the thought of building a career path for our students,” said Powell. “It’s huge because we can create the talent, take it to a certain level and these business connections are what allow that talent to go somewhere. As great as art is, the ones that really thrive are the ones that make those connections with business.”