Pace Academy / Aluka Berry

It’s time to take art out of the box! If you think “the arts” only means dance, music, drama and visual arts, you’re putting a limit on what it means to be an artist in the 21st century.

Arts refers to so much more, as well as subjects you might think of as more math- or technology-based, such as architecture, graphic design or filmmaking.

Because of these mediums, arts education is more important than ever. Many programs allow students to explore many different media, while developing their talents and honing soft skills. Arts exposure and appreciation as students will lead to more well-rounded adults who support the arts financially, participate in the arts recreationally and, potentially, have careers in the arts.

The Fundamentals

Opportunities abound for students to try new creative classes and benefit from the materials and skills learned. Arts education introduces students to historic artists and musicians, encourages them to ask questions, and provides a break from standardized testing and learning. The arts have a tremendous impact in  creating a comprehensive educational experience for students of all ages.

Outstanding arts programs are available at many private and public schools in metro Atlanta, as well as boarding schools in the area. Schools that have a heavy emphasis on the arts or a specialization may be of interest for more serious art lovers and talented kids. They also often have more equipment than traditional schools, which can inspire and stimulate students. Here is a sample of programs offered in Atlanta; be sure to look into options close to where you live that will best fit your child’s needs and passions.

At the School of the Arts @ Central Gwinnett High School (SOTA), students can major in art and design, dance, music technology and audio production, theatre, or voice. The school opened for the 2021-22 school year and is designed for students who want to take their art to the next level by working with industry professionals and partnering with arts organizations. The state-of-the-art facility features a black box theatre, visual arts classrooms, a computer art lab,  recording studio facilities, a dance studio space and more.

At Pace Academy’s Middle School, students take their choice of visual art courses, drama, band, orchestra or chorus. In Upper School, students can try photography, ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, band, chorus, strings, acting or stagecraft. “Theatre is the only art form that captures all seven arts,” says Sean Bryan, the Director of Fine Arts at Pace Academy. The seven arts are considered to be architecture, sculpture, painting, literature, music, performing and film. “There are so many elements that go into theatrical production, and you need as many talents as possible: costume, lighting, designer, dramaturges. We need a plethora of people for all these different talents who have hands-on skills and can problem solve in the moment during any production.”

DeKalb School of the Arts (DSA) offers drama, dance, vocal and instrumental music, visual arts, video technology, creative writing, multimedia, and design and production classes. “We often make the arts inaccessible by only applying them in very specific ways – you’re a musician, a dancer or a visual artist,” says Nwandi Lawson, a member of the Principal Advisory Council for DeKalb School of the Arts. “Students are actually introduced to arts very comprehensively in their studies. They major and minor in certain arts, but they have access to all of them.”

At DSA, arts students work together in their own discipline and across disciplines. The school holds an annual Dark Night performance, a collaboration between creative and dramatic arts to showcase student learning. Creative writing students write short plays and then work with the theatre department to bring the plays to life. Students are working together and learning aspects of another department they might not have known about before the collaboration.

“I have heard the teachers speaking to each other across disciplines in a way I don’t think you would in another school, such as the biology teacher talking to the
dance teacher about physiology and how the body moves,” Lawson says. “Really, the arts make science and technology better than they would be.”

Some arts schools have certain requirements for admittance. For example, students at SOTA must complete an application, submit two letters of  recommendation, take part in an interview, and participate in an audition or submit a portfolio.

DSA’s admissions process requires a cumulative GPA of 80%, no grades lower than 71, promotion requirements for certain classes, an audition, an interview, and four written recommendations. Students must earn a minimum of two production credits a year.

These processes are a way for students to start cultivating  responsibility. “Having to create a portfolio or prepare for an audition gives you a certain character strength,” Lawson says. “It’s an opportunity to demonstrate what your contribution to the school can be. As their first experience, it can be very stressful, but we encourage students to look at it as an opportunity to showcase what they can do.”

SCAD Atlanta / SCAD

Looking to the Future

If your high school child is contemplating a career in the arts, they can explore many paths. Savannah College of Art and Design has campuses in both Savannah and Atlanta. SCAD offers more than 100 programs of study, including advertising, branded entertainment, creative business leadership, fashion, graphic design and interior design.

“We have those more traditional arts, such as painting or performing arts, but we also have film and television, architecture, experienced design, immersive reality, service design, business-related degrees and more,” says Jenny Jaquillard, SCAD’s Associate Vice President for Admission. “For students, creative storytelling is helpful regardless of the industry. Creativity is really in every single industry.”

At SCAD, students take general education courses, as well as classes outside of their major. “Every course develops their world view,” Jaquillard says. “We have general art and design classes, such as drawing and color theory, so someone could come into SCAD and not have any background in art. For students who are more comfortable with mathematics, we have 17 STEM-recognized programs, including architecture, industrial design and motion media design. For students who want to go into any area of a creative career, we’re helping them to develop those strengths. We’re in a unique position to nurture the passion within students, regardless of their background or what they’re good at.”

With the stereotype of the starving artist, you may have a fear of your child becoming a successful adult if they pursue an arts career. But 99% of Spring 2019 graduates from SCAD were employed, pursuing further education, or both within 10 months of graduation.

“Job concerns are valid in any field, but you want your child to be armed with skills – both soft and hard – to make it in any industry. At SCAD, students are armed with creative problem-solving, studio, communication and collaboration skills,” Jaquillard says. “We’re supplying students with everything they need to be successful. We are future-proofing our students, so they have the skills needed for today’s industry, as well as the skills that will take them into the future, as they grow to be leaders.”

One of the biggest things you can do to support your child is encourage, even if you have concerns about the future.

“Whenever there’s a spark, you have to apply a little bit of oxygen until the fire starts to catch and add more and more kindling to it until it becomes a bonfire, and that’s how passion will develop,” Bryan says. “Comments on results aren’t helpful when you don’t know what will be. Help your children take ownership of their own passion. Help them explore what they like, and don’t expect a professional performance from the beginning. They will learn what they’re good at. Provide opportunities and encouragement, and don’t look at the finish line as a finish line – it’s a process. Help build that bonfire with them.”

DeKalb School of the Arts

Benefits of an Arts Education

The arts have an amazing impact on learners, no matter what avenue they’re interested in.

  • Leadership. Creative learners must solve problems, which gives them the skills to become future leaders.
  • Resilience. Students make discoveries by trying, and as part of the creative process, they fail more than they succeed. This teaches them not to give up and to keep going until they find the best outcome.
  • Responsibility. Managing project deadlines, memorizing lines, learning the architecture of the time and maintaining a portfolio – these smaller tasks will create students who can effectively handle all levels of responsibility.
  • Collaboration. Students work together collaboratively and must communicate their different perspectives and ideas to create the best project or performance.
  • Empathy. Stepping into others’ works, whether it’s a play, a painting or a song, allows students to step into other people’s perspectives to try to understand the creator’s motivation.
  • Respect. Art from around the world has become more accessible in the 21st century, and arts education helps students be more respectful and understanding of other cultures.
  • Appreciation. Students who know what it takes to create art and design will have a unique appreciation and awareness for the arts.
  • Personalized education. Because arts don’t follow an educational mold, students are able to explore what they’re interested in and express themselves in different creative avenues.
  • Confidence. Learning to perform and speak in front of others gives students the confidence to present themselves and their ideas.
  • Community. Students get to be around others who share their passion, and they have the opportunity to cultivate relationships with mentors who teach the art they’re passionate about.

-Adapted from interviews with Bryan, Lawson and Jaquillard.

This story was originally published in Nov. 2021.

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