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story.lead_photo.caption Diane Stinebaugh (center), teacher of Fine Arts and Speech at Fayetteville High School, listens as senior Kyrie Potter speaks with Donna Jones, director of recruitment and outreach at the School of Art at the University of Arkansas, earlier this month during a recruitment visit. - Photo by David Gottschalk

FAYETTEVILLE -- An unprecedented $120 million gift last year to support the University of Arkansas School of Art brought with it dollars for student recruitment and a pledge by UA for its art school to become "a model for inclusion and diversity."

So far, the recruitment trail has not led too far away from Fayetteville when it comes to visits to secondary schools, even as arts educators describe the importance of outreach in seeking out potential students.

Out of 10 traveling recruitment presentations, eight took place within an hour's drive of Fayetteville, with visits also to a student art conference in Little Rock and a school in Batesville, about four hours east of the campus in Northwest Arkansas, according to university records released under the state's public-disclosure law.

"I am definitely interested in visiting those schools in our southern region, for sure," said Donna Jones, who began in December as the art school's director of recruitment and outreach, a newly created position.

School visits thus far have taken place after receiving an invitation to speak with students, Jones said, while a UA spokesman said other university admissions counselors traveling to different regions of the state also talk about the UA art school, which has boosted student scholarship funds as part of the $120 million Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation gift announced in August 2017.

As part of UA being awarded what it described as the largest-ever gift benefiting a U.S. university's art school, the university drafted a proposal stating the art school "will be constructed as a model for inclusion and diversity," including "with regard to racial, ethnic, gender, and geographic background."

The art school this fall enrolled seven black students out of 346 categorized as studying art, or 2 percent of the total, according to university records.

"It's a little embarrassing," said Sharon Killian, president of the board for Art Ventures, a nonprofit that seeks to promote the arts in Northwest Arkansas.

Killian, a black artist who has taught at the private Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., and also as a UA arts education faculty member, said it is important to "take the art to the kid" to "bring a change to the outlook of people of color and underserved communities, to first of all get the idea that art is worthwhile and you can actually make a living on it."

For all students, UA faces competition from recruiters at specialized art institutes and other schools, with the Kansas City Art Institute, for example, visiting nine Arkansas schools separately this fall, said Kathy St. Clair, communications manager for the private, four-year college of fine arts and design.

Jones said she also made a trip to Dallas for a college fair recruiting event. UA records also refer to a portfolio event for students at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, a similar event in Little Rock, a "Lee County Officials meeting," and travel to an art educators conference in Little Rock.

Back in August, Todd Shields, dean of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, in a statement said "the quality of students we will be able to recruit will be at a level we haven't seen before."

At UA, Jones earns a salary of $60,765, and, in addition, the art school has an annual student recruitment budget of $64,000, according to Kayla Crenshaw, the school's communications director, who said others with UA pitch students on behalf of the art school.

"Because of the gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, our overall strategy for recruiting additional students to the School of Art is new this year. Because of the generous gift, we have been able to visit with new students, recruit, and participate in more programs than ever before," Shields said in a statement.

The UA proposal to the foundation stated: "Targets will be established relating to undergraduates to prioritize attracting top talent, as well as focusing on students from middle- and lower-income backgrounds."

The proposal also stated that "metrics will be put in place for enrollment goals" and "candidate quality and diversity," with "additional measures and strategies regarding student diversity to be developed going forward."

So far, "nothing specifically has been developed with regard to that, but there are a lot of conversations taking place," said Crenshaw, the art school's communications director, adding that many of the metrics and diversity strategies under discussion "will be further developed when the permanent director of the School of Art is in place."

Two finalists for the position ended up taking jobs with other universities this summer. The university will reopen a national search for the director job, Crenshaw said.

The university also has student groups taking special tours of art facilities, which are set to grow with a $40 million gift from the Windgate Charitable Foundation to add facilities to what UA calls its Windgate Art and Design District in south Fayetteville.

Nine student groups, including a group of about 150 on campus to learn about UA's Honors College and about 30 students from a charter school in Louisiana, have visited or were scheduled for a specialized tour of UA's art facilities, according to university records. Of the groups associated with a specific Arkansas secondary or middle school, none was outside Washington County or Benton County.

Two art school presentations also were given in July to students involved in Upward Bound, a program aimed at helping low-income students prepare for college, according to university records.

UA publicized travel scholarships available for schools interested in attending its annual Portfolio Day recruitment event in September. The travel support was described as being made available thanks to the Walton gift.

The university ended up paying $733.20 to get students to Fayetteville, according to university records.

The money went to two schools in northeast Arkansas and a school in Tulsa. Students visited from the Rector School District, about 5½ hours east of Fayetteville, and from the Westside Consolidated School District, about 4½ hours away, Crenshaw said, and also from the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences.

Two other schools, both in Missouri, received approval for travel scholarships but either did not attend or ended up not requesting reimbursement, Crenshaw said.

The Arkansas Arts Academy in Rogers is a public charter school about 20 miles north of the Fayetteville campus, with both elementary and secondary school campuses.

Mary Ley, chief executive officer for the academy, boasted that "we are as good as any private art school in America."

Crystal McWilliams, art teacher for the academy's older students, said recruiters from schools like the Kansas City Institute of Art have made a difference for her students who have gone on to study art in college.

"Based on what my students have told me that actually have gone or applied, they said that was part of it. Because they were able to stay in touch with somebody," McWilliams said.

Zhiwen Xu, a senior at Fayettevile High School, said she wants to study art and science in college. She's considering private universities like Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a specialized art school in Rhode Island, but sat in on a presentation by Jones earlier this month about the UA school.

"I would consider [UA] because they have so many new scholarships, so it can be more affordable. That's really the big thing that a lot of people are thinking, like my friends as well," Xu said.

Of having a recruiter come to talk about UA arts, Xu said "it's really good that they come."

The Arkansas Arts Academy in Rogers is on the list of UA art school's recruitment events, but McWilliams said that while she's received emails from Jones, so far "they have not made a presentation at our school, specifically just the art department." McWilliams said she remembered a more "generic" UA presentation to students.

"I'm excited for the future of the U of A art department, because then we can keep all of these artists local," McWilliams said.

The arts academy and most schools receiving visits from Jones have few black students, according to data from the state Department of Education. Except for Fayetteville High School, none of the other schools had a black student population of more than 5 percent of their total enrollment.

In Arkansas, black students made up 20.8 percent of high school graduates in the 2016-17 academic year, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Higher Education. Student graduates from high schools tracked by the state agency totaled 30,152, with black students totaling 6,273.

UA as a whole has 961 out of 23,386 undergraduates who are classified as black, or about 4 percent.

Alice Wexler, a retired art professor at State University of New York at New Paltz, has written about diversity in arts education.

Going back to her experience as a university arts professor, Wexler said she recalled frequent faculty discussions at the public university, "Why are there the least number of diverse students in the art department than anywhere else on the campus?"

While she said she did not know of any national diversity studies of collegiate art departments, "I think it comes down to something very practical for lower-income people," Wexler said. "They can't really see a future in the arts as a career."

Wexler said differences also start in grade school, where lower-income students may not receive the exposure to the arts as students in wealthier areas.

Penny Woods, principal of Hamburg Middle School, about 75 miles south of Pine Bluff, is working to expand the arts curriculum at the school, which has about two-thirds low-income students. Out of its 373 students, about 22 percent are black and 16 percent are Hispanic.

"We're in the southeastern part of the state. Our students do not have exposure to the arts, other than what comes through and what little bit we at the school can provide them," Woods said.

When it comes to art, "our kids, I think, just come to us with not even the thought in their head that that is a possibility for a career," Woods said.

The school is participating in a separate UA effort, Arkansas A+ Schools, that aims to improve arts-integration in schools, with the school's staff going through training, she said.

"We've never had anybody come to talk to our students about the arts and pursuing an education in art. I do feel that they would benefit from something like that," Woods said.

Technology will play a role in future recruitment presentations by the UA art school, said Jones. The plan is to conduct interactive presentations for schools online, she said. This will start in the spring, she said.

In addition to formal recruitment, the school participates every other Monday in art sessions at the Yvonne Richardson Community Center in Fayetteville, Jones said. An arts workshop is also in the works.

Killian said it takes sustained engagement to effectively reach art students from underserved communities, "that you've lent your expertise and that you care about who they are." Having those involved in outreach be from a background that's relatable to students also matters, she said.

"It's hard, continual work," Killian said.

Photo by David Gottschalk
Zhiwen Xu, a senior at Fayetteville High School, listens to a presentation about the University of Arkansas School of Art earlier this month. She said she would consider going to UA because of the number of new scholarships.

A Section on 11/23/2018

Print Headline: UA stays close to home in art school recruitment

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