New course aims to expose students to the range of careers they might seek in the arts

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Arts Life, On Site

From left, Shellby Brannam, Brittni Mosby, Kaitlyn Swartz, Damon Addison, Sarah Butler, Brock Seals, Jasmine Blanks, Micaela Hash-Boyer and Jessica Handley made up the first Arts Life, On Site class, which helped students explore different possible career paths in the arts. The students presented some of what they learned from the eight-week course last week at the Gallery 210 auditorium. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Jasmine Blanks has been hearing the question a lot as she gets ready to graduate next month with her BFA with an emphasis in painting.

She knows she isn’t alone.

“You graduate with an art major, and everyone asks, ‘What are you going to do with that?’” she said Wednesday night while speaking in the Gallery 210 auditorium at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Blanks was presenting her takeaways from a new course created by the Department of Art and Design that aims  to help students answer that question.

The course is called Arts Life, On Site, and it stretched eight weeks from the beginning of March through last week. During site visits to organizations in St. Louis and a trip to New York over spring break, the students met and got to ask questions of art directors, animators, gallery owners, museum curators, print-shop managers, arts collectors and more.

Michael Behle

Assistant Teaching Professor Michael Behle organized the Arts Life, On Site class, which included a trip to New York over spring break. (Photo by August Jennewein)

“I think there’s a need because oftentimes students come into the program, and they know that they love art, and they know they like to make images and work with their hands and create objects, but the question is, ‘Well, what do I do? What’s the career path?’” said Assistant Teaching Professor Michael Behle, who led the course and is the assistant chair of the Department of Art and Design. “This class addresses that and gives them exposure and contacts to build their network, and they meet arts professionals from all different facets.”

The course grew out of an existing trip the department offered through the generous support of philanthropists John and Alison Ferring. For nearly 10 years, the trip has provided students an opportunity to have an immersive experience in an art center such as New York or Los Angeles.

The department decided to build upon it with site visits to organizations around St. Louis as well.

One of the students’ first visits was to the office of Brian Ballok, an architect from HOK. They also met with B.J. Vogt, an exhibits preparator at the Missouri Historical Society, and Andy Cross, a scenic artist who’s worked at The Muny for more than 30 years.

“This was maybe not my first but one of the first introductions that I had getting to see creative types in sort of a professional field that isn’t strictly just fine art,” sophomore Sarah Butler said. “Something that we got to discuss with them was how do you work with your creativity in this field. A lot of what they said was you problem-solve, you adapt and you’re willing to fail. I think those things really speak to being an artist.”

Brock Seals

Senior Brock Seals describes part of the painting he made to encompass his experience in the Arts Life, On Site course. (Photo by Steve Walentik)

The students were moved by the work of Gina Alvarez, executive director of VSA Missouri – the statewide organization on arts and disability – and the Living Arts Studio, which provides scholarships and assistance for those with disabilities, helping make art accessible to all.

“I see the people that walk in there, and some of them I can tell that they’re real beginners,” said junior Micaela Hash-Boyer, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in art therapy after completing her BFA. “They’re really nervous. Some of them don’t even know who they are and what they can do. I see them a couple hours later walking out, and they have the biggest smiles on their faces.”

For the students, the highlight of the course had to be the trip to New York, and they took turns presenting about their experiences. Senior Brock Seals produced a painting to encapsulate his takeaways.

“I feel like this was the best way that I could tell my story to you all and the best way for me to remember it, too,” Seals said.

The trip began with the group getting briefly stuck in an elevator in their Times Square hotel and later included a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge in the wee hours of the morning that was just as memorable.

Shellby Brannam

Senior Shelby Brannam shares some of the uncertainty she felt about her place in the arts. Her experience in Arts Life, On Site gave her more confidence as she gets ready to launch her career. (Photo by Steve Walentik)

Their time in New York saw them visit the International Center of Photography, The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts and Buck TV. They dined with art collectors and met with a representative of Doyle auction house and with the special effects coordinator for the production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” at the Lyric Theater. They also dropped by the office of art director Ewa Budka.

For senior Shellby Brannam, the experiences in New York and throughout the course were life-changing, making her think more deeply about what she wants to do in her career.

“Unlike all my other classmates, my path has kind of seemed very decided,” she said. “I am a bachelor of fine arts student with an art education certification. This trip gave me an opportunity to question that, which I think I needed.”

She added: “The opportunity that I had, not only with the speakers or with Professor Behle or my classmates, it all connected to show me there is not just one path.”

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