The Tabor Experience Committee, a board-level committee chaired by trustee Travis Roy ’95, completed their third deep dive into an integral piece of the Tabor experience: Visual Arts. The first two program areas completed were Residential Life and Athletics.
The process for each of these efforts includes reviewing the current program, gathering feedback from students, faculty, and parents, and holding various focus groups about the program with the goal of identifying exactly the experience we expect students to have in each program area, and uncovering areas of strength and opportunity.
As part of the fall Board meetings, Art Department Chair Tricia Smith presented the committee's deep dive into the Visual Arts and its findings. Smith shared her appreciation for the opportunity, as well as her obvious pride in the Visual Arts Program: the curriculum, facilities, students, and faculty at Tabor.
Beginning with the positives, Smith shared the wide curriculum offerings in visual arts from digital arts and photography to ceramics and studio art. The studio facilities in ceramics, including the collegiate-level glazing lab and the off-site wood-kiln, are unique strengths of the department. Additionally, the studio art side of the Braitmayer Arts Center is also a beloved space. Smith extolled the arts faculty and their professionalism and ability to encourage students toward further study as their interests develop. Anywhere from 1 - 7% of a graduating class is now heading toward art school or a concentration in the arts in college. Smith also shared her pleasure in the success of our prerequisite course, Visual Thinking, which introduces students to the principles of composition, design, and critique in multiple media before they move on to specific courses in ceramics, photo, painting, etc. As well, she expressed enthusiasm for the future possibilities of our new Ceramics Fellowship, which will now bring to campus annually an exceptional recent MFA graduate in ceramics. Nora Arrieta is our first fellow who arrived this fall from Alfred University’s exceptional MFA program in ceramics, and she is already contributing to our students' growth by in the classroom, in the afternoon co-curricular program, and by creating and sharing her own work. In return, Arrieta receives regular mentorship from Kevin Arnfield, our ceramics teacher, as she develops her teaching skills.
Smith shared with the trustees her concerns that despite the important role of the arts in developing in-demand skills in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, arts enrollment at Tabor may suffer due to students’ perceived value of AP and STEM subjects in the college process, as well as a lack of awareness about the rigor of these courses. Smith went on to demonstrate the way critical thinking and each of the “four Cs” are incorporated into critiquing art at Tabor. She then shared the opportunities for facility improvements uncovered in the study such as a larger dedicated gallery space, more storage, and better ventilation.
Adjacent spaces for incorporating the Maker Space with studio art would also be helpful, as well as uniting the photography program under one roof, she added. Additional suggestions included opportunities to better publicize our strength in the arts on the website as well as through admissions tours and faculty visits with applicants.
A panel of student artists joined the group to share their experiences and field trustee questions. Several students noted that the Visual and Performing Arts were part of what attracted them to Tabor initially and that they have been delighted by the courses and opportunities available to them. Stuart Wemple ’20, a photographer, shared that the flexibility and casual nature of our program attracted him, “There is time to explore; it is less rigid than other programs I looked at.” Max Mignatti ’20 shared the power of studying art, creating a personal testimony of Smith’s earlier remarks, “Art has helped me figure out who I am and what I am interested in. By learning to look beyond the surface, I’ve learned more about what I am passionate about in all areas of school and life.”
When asked how art impacts wellness, almost all the students mentioned art as an important outlet for them. “Art has influenced my grades, attendance, physical health, mental health and provides a time when I can process things,” said Madden Sterrett ’21. Lela Krein ’21 commented on the community saying, “The studio is such a unique environment, I feel improved not just by doing the arts, but also by the community we have developed there and the attractiveness of the physical space.”
By all accounts, the Visual Arts at Tabor are thriving and serving the needs of our students. With some focus on improving facilities and accessibility to art courses through some creative thinking of our own, we hope to have even more students practice the four C’s of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity through exploration in the arts.