Strategic Plan Reconstructs Art Education at BSA

Baltimore School for the Arts has recently unveiled a plan that introduces a new mission and vision statement, as well as six core values that will guide the school.  The vision statement stresses the value of both mastery of skills and a strong sense of purpose in an artist, while the mission statement addresses the school’s desire to train students to be, “the next generation of the creative workforce.”  The new core values are: curiosity, expertise, purpose, confidence, collaboration, and global perspective. This project has been in development for multiple years. It is designed to better prepare students at BSA for lives as creative professionals by giving them the skills that are needed to fill the changing role of an artist in today’s society.

According to Carter Polakoff, the  BSA Foundation and Development Director, the idea is that, “After four years, those will be six qualities that you will take with you in your life.”  Though the current iteration of the plan includes only abstracts that will guide BSA, eventually it will affect school life more profoundly. Rachel Heavers, who also works in the development office and was in charge of developing the strategic plan, says these values will, “inform decisions that we’ll make as a community”.  Ms. Polakoff continued, “Every curriculum change, or if students come to us with a project that they want to do, we’ll look to these core values and say, ‘do these fit?’ If they do, [we’ll say] ‘yes’.”

Another goal of the Strategic Plan is to prepare students for life after BSA.  To that end, Ms. Heavers told us that the team charged with creating the plan has researched what life is really like for young creative professionals.  “We spent a year talking to people across the country in different disciplines and different areas of the arts world, asking them, ‘How do we best prepare our students? How do we make sure that they’re going to be the very best candidates for post-secondary education and the very best generation of the creative workforce?”  The Codex Project was a notable part of this research—Dr. Ford says that a key part of the project was to engage young professional artists to work with students at the school.  These artists included choreographer Katherine Helen Fisher, musician Nadia Sirota, and composer Marcos Balter.  “I’m really curious about what their lives are like and how they operate in their world.  They’re all independent artists; they’re not part of a larger institution.  I think many of our students will end up being independent artists, so it was a way to do some research into what our current students need to be prepared to do when they leave here.”

This may sound like a big change for the school, but according to Ms. Polakoff, the strategic plan that will soon be voted on by BSA’s board of directors won’t make any real change to the school curriculum.  Instead, this plan outlines values and goals, and includes an “environmental assessment” that would “collect” all the information the school has gained by researching for the strategic plan.  There is, however, a second step: an “implementation plan”, which is to be determined.

However, an example of what the implementation plan could look like in action is the new “Arts Practices” program in the visual arts department.  This program gives visual arts students the opportunity to experience the arts community in Baltimore by taking them to visit local galleries and studios.  Though not officially part of the Strategic Plan, this program does exemplify the value of a “global perspective” in which students are “aware of the world at large and how to engage with it.”

The re-focusing from pure expertise to a broader array of values has led to mixed reactions among the faculty.  Mr. Askey, an academic teacher, seemed cautiously optimistic about the plan.  “I’d like to see how it plays out.  I think some of the things about motivation and global reach within the strategic plan are fascinating… This isn’t just an accidental conversation that [Dr. Ford] is having with the art department.  I think he’s really intending for this to be something that is shifting the narrative about art education.  [Because the role of the artist is changing] we can’t continue, particularly in the face of a society that doesn’t seem to care about art, to teach it the way we’ve always taught it.”

In response to anyone who may have doubts, Ms. Polakoff says, “When you’ve been teaching a program that produces incredible results, it’s very hard to be introspective and to look at your program and make changes when you know that you’re producing a really wonderful product.  The world is changing really fast, faster than anyone ever anticipated.  So we have to continue to be one of the best, we have to continue looking at our programs and enhance when and where needed.  It does not mean blowing up the whole program, it doesn’t mean making huge changes—a field trip here, an interdisciplinary class there.  Expertise is still one of our major components.”