Complex problems require inspired, imaginative solutions. They call for creativity.
Sweet Briar College will help answer the need for creative thinkers this summer when it debuts BLUR: The Blue Ridge Summer Institute for Young Artists, a program for high school students interested in theater, creative writing and visual art. The program will be held June 19 through July 9 on campus.
BLUR director Dave Griffith says the program was sparked by a conversation among arts faculty at Sweet Briar, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Endstation Theatre Company about a Newsweek article, “The Creativity Crisis.” The story cites data showing that children in America are less creative than they used to be, while problems such as the economy, health care and the environment are as complicated or more so than ever.
“We agreed that arts education should do more than just encourage self-expression,” Griffith says. “The arts can and should train students to think creatively and work collaboratively to solve problems in any area.”
Ideas to foster creativity among tomorrow’s leaders quickly took shape, Griffith says — and points out that Sweet Briar is the perfect place to host such a program. The College’s 3,250-acre campus, ranked among the most beautiful in the country by the Princeton Review, is home to dynamic programs in the creative and performing arts, including Endstation, a professional theater troupe-in-residence. The VCCA, one of the country’s largest artist communities, is next door.
BLUR’s interdisciplinary focus distinguishes the program and gives the institute its name, Griffith says. The idea is to blur the boundaries between the arts to imagine new ways of seeing, thinking and creating.
Participants will spend three weeks in residence at Sweet Briar, working deeply in one art form — creative writing, theater or visual art — but also collaborating with artists from other concentrations, responding to challenges that will require creative problem solving.
“Students will spend two-thirds of their day in their ‘home’ studio writing, painting, drawing and acting, and the other third collaborating with artists working in a different medium, designing and building collaborative exhibits and performances inspired by the natural landscape and aided by the iPad,” Griffith said.
In addition to the iPad, participants will also receive two hours of college credit for successfully completing the program, and young women who attend BLUR and later enroll at Sweet Briar will receive a $2,000 tuition credit.
The program’s faculty includes accomplished professionals with experience teaching young artists. Griffith, an assistant professor of English at Sweet Briar, and poet Brandon Som will teach creative writing. Kate Plows will serve as director of residential life. All three are veterans of the highly selective Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts.
Angela Sweigart-Gallagher, assistant professor of theater at Lock Haven University and Endstation director of education, specializes in directing youth productions, and multi-media artist Claire Hoch taught in the pre-college program at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Program participants will also be mentored by the cast and crew of Endstation Theatre Company, whose Blue Ridge Summer Theatre Festival runs concurrently with BLUR. This partnership offers all the participants — whether concentrating in theater, writing or visual art — behind-the-scenes experience in staging a professional theater production.
“The goal is to energize, educate and entertain young artists,” Griffith says. “But we also want to expand their horizons. They should leave here seeing art and creativity in a completely new and refreshing way.”
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