June 18, 2015
Students partner with local organizations to exhibit their work
For decades, students in CIA’s design majors have been serving internships with manufacturers and design consultancies, and, in the process, making helpful contacts and gaining valuable professional experience before graduation.
With notable exceptions, students pursuing visual arts generally have not had access to comparable internship experiences. Until now.
Thanks to a grant from the Fenn Educational Fund of the Cleveland Foundation, and some smart thinking by faculty and staff members, CIA this year facilitated Creativity Works, a program of self-initiated internship experiences for students looking forward to careers as visual artists.
The result: five juniors lined up community organizations as internship hosts, wrote proposals and budgets that were reviewed and accepted by faculty and staff coordinators, and pursued a variety of public art projects.
CIA Career Center Director Amy Goldman is quick to point out that CIA’s fine arts students regularly have other kinds of professional experiences, through arts-administration internships at galleries and art centers, or by working as studio assistants for professional artists, or by assisting in glass or ceramics studios at prestigious craft centers. What sets Creativity Works apart is that this program “offered financial support for projects that enabled students to directly experience the life of a professional artist and think like entrepreneurs,” Goldman said.
The grant was open to students in all majors, with a preference for students who have studio practice at the forefront of their career aspirations.
Valued and valuable
“There’s so much value in the students seeing their work and their efforts embraced and realized in the community,” said Associate Professor and Printmaking Department Chair Maggie Denk- Leigh. As academic project leader of Creativity Works, Denk-Leigh met with students individually and helped them navigate the process of developing a convincing proposal, identifying and approaching an organization, and pitching their idea.
For 10 years, Denk-Leigh taught a section of CIA’s mandatory Business and Professional Practices course to students from every major. “I spent a lot of time helping prepare students who were applying for known jobs. But for the visual artist, you’re not applying for just one job; you’re going to be several different things. You’re the creative energy; you’re the maker; you’re the collaborator; you’re the installer; you’re the marketer; you’re the web builder; you’re everything for yourself.”
Those tasks may now seem a little less daunting to the five Creativity Works interns.
Denk-Leigh notes that the funding was important for more than just financial reasons.
“They’re getting compensated for their materials so they are doing extra things that they might not have done, like putting together a catalog, or conducting photo documentation. Beyond that, we want our students recognized financially for what they do and we want them mentally and emotionally reminded that their contributions are valued and valuable. This internship rewarded them for what we knew they could do in the first place, given the opportunity.”
Kristi Andrasik, program officer for the Cleveland Foundation, said Creativity Works was a good fit for the Fenn Educational Fund, which has promoted cooperative learning and internships for over 40 years.
“Research shows that many students learn better and are more prepared to enter the workforce if their course of study demonstrates how classroom learning applies in the real world,” said Andrasik. “By creating a program that engages students in the types of activities and settings they will be expected to navigate after graduation, it is anticipated that Creativity Works students will be better equipped to succeed as professional working artists.
That’s exactly what Denk-Leigh, Goldman, and Experiential Learning Specialist Rachel Browner had in mind when they proposed Creativity Works.
“We are so grateful that the Fenn Educational Fund looked at this as a meaningful learning experience, even though it’s outside of the traditional internship role,” said Goldman. “That means that they really understand what it takes to be a practicing visual artist; that means they want to support these students and enable them to make connections and have this professional development before they graduate.”
Above: Deborah Weidrick, left, and Abigail Clark, right, work on the fiber and print installation they created for the Great Lakes Science Center.
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