Are College Arts Programs at Risk?

School arts program

Are College Arts Programs at Risk?

Published on May 24, 2020

School arts program


Some courses of study are all about collaboration.

For students enrolled in the arts, working in teams is not only about creating things together, but critiquing and evaluating each other’s work, then presenting it to an audience.

So what happens if, as a result of COVID-19, artists can no longer accomplish these things?

Will their programs be temporarily or even permanently cut from colleges, or, perhaps, dramatically overhauled?

And what about how that translates to the real world, and their futures as writers, artists, musicians, actors, dancers, filmmakers, and more?

For answers, we looked to students, parents, and educators in the arts.


College Without Arts Programs?

A Student Imagines What Life Will Be Like

Only a few months ago, when everything came to a virtual halt, students in art schools and art programs tried to imagine doing their work remotely.

Lauren Knight, who is both a literary journalism student and a drama student at the University of California, Irvine, penned her thoughts for OnStage Blog: “The thing about theater education: it relies on interpersonal connections. I can’t work on blocking with my classmates on Zoom,

I can’t reach out and touch the hand of my scene partner through a computer screen. My classmates can’t dance in the living rooms of their small apartments, and my friends can’t direct their projects from a video conference with all of their cast and crew.” 

And what about the all-important aspect of presenting work, as well as the value of staying in school if you can’t achieve the hands-on education you set out to get?

Knight shared her concerns about artists of all types, wondering if most people understand what goes into the process of being an artist:

“I think about the designers sitting with their renderings and wondering if anyone will see their work now that productions are canceled…about the students with crippling loan debt who will be paying the same amount of tuition money to sit in their rooms and try to improve dance technique with no professor to correct them…about the dancers who will have no audiences to perform to, no applause echoing through the performance hall when the number ends…about the dust that will build up on the walls of the black box theater and the ghost light that eventually gets turned off by a janitor, or maybe flickers out as the bulb dies.

I think about all of these things because someone has to.”

Getting Creative

Some schools have been able to temporarily transition their teaching methods by using platforms such as Zoom and Canvas in combination with email.

Major challenges remain, though they have inspired new ways to use social media.

In a story for Artnet News, Benjamin Cook, an artist in Kentucky, as well as an instructor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, looked to Instagram to help students who were disappointed about being unable to present their thesis exhibitions.

He established the Instagram account Social Distance Gallery. “I created the gallery Friday morning at 11 and had 10,000 followers in 48 hours,”Cook said.

They now have nearly 19,000.


Parents Are Concerned

Parents from our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group shared some of their thoughts about what the future holds for their up-and-coming artists. (Comments have been lightly edited for clarity and length.):

My daughter is studying both arts for a Photography degree, and the Sciences for an Environmental Biology degree. This is impacting both her majors significantly. For her arts class, she did not have access to a dark room, was not able to continue to truly learn her craft, was not able to go on the field trips to see the art that she was supposed to go on and virtual field trips are not the same. She was supposed to have her first gallery show and was on the board of directors for putting it together and it got cancelled…The lack of being able to collaborate with other students for both majors was incredibly hard, especially during finals and while putting together her final photography projects. Lara

My daughter is a dance major. I’m quite nervous about sending her in general, but we haven’t heard definitively from her school so we are just being patient before we solidify decisions. Her plan a while ago was to go if they choose in-person. If they choose online, she will enroll in community college. Dancing in her room is not worth the money. I’m also an educator, so I know that there is no real answer right now and all we can do is breathe and wait before we have to make choices. I’ve honestly never been more indecisive. I want her to go because she needs to be there with her major, but I’m so worried too. Kristy

My daughter will also be a dance major (freshman), planning to head out of state. We’ve gotten an email from the college with all the steps they’re taking for this upcoming year, with classes chosen and arranged with greater flexibility to adapting online (if needed), smaller class sizes, rooms reserved for quarantine cases, etc, etc, but still, if worse-case scenario happens and they end up at home, that is a lot of lost progress and opportunity not happening in-studio. Melanie


The Struggle of an Artist

In an article for The Nation, William Deresiewicz, the author of The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech, talks about the struggle of the artist in the age of COVID-19: Many of us are hoping to go back, eventually, to some kind of normal, but for artists, with few exceptions, there is nothing there, no job or position, to ‘go back’ to.

You are the job. You are the small business.

For actors, writers, and directors who have had their productions shut down, comedians and bands who’ve had to cancel tours, visual artists who were looking forward to a gallery show (all after years of preparation, deprivation, and uncertainty), the pandemic may be killing opportunities that won’t come back.”

As news of how, and if, schools will be reopening in the fall begins to trickle out, artists across all media are waiting and hoping that what they’ve worked towards for so long won’t become a casualty of the pandemic. 


An Art School President Reaches Out

In a letter to students, faculty, and staff of University of the Arts in Philadelphia, The school’s president, David Yager, looks ahead to the fall and touches on some of these very issues:

The realities of a world affected by COVID continue to have profound impact on our lives in unimaginable ways, and it would be shortsighted to ignore how the pandemic will change creative practices across disciplines tomorrow.

We are hard at work considering how performances will be different, how artists and designers will refocus their practices, and how storytellers will tell different stories.

We must consider the critical role creatives will play in the future and embed it in our plans for the fall.”  


An Inspiring Message From a Graduating Senior

In his virtual 2020 commencement address for The New School in New York, Santiago Mallan,  a BFA recipient with a degree in the dramatic arts, reminds classmates of the value of art during this unprecedented time:

“None of us really envisioned our last year of college looking like this…I see promising writers, inspiring directors, pioneering technicians, struggling actors–I see artists, we’re all artists…and there’s a reason that we’re all artists, we love art…Art lets us make sense of the world.

And it lets us understand the ways that the world will never make sense.” 

Mallan continued, “I know that it’s easy to get down on ourselves for choosing this path when there’s literally firefighters and doctors who are physically going out into the awfulness of the world and trying to fix it and save it with their bare hands…but without art I don’t know if there would be a world worth saving.”

Whatever happens, from the darkness there will hopefully be beauty created by artists of all kinds to help us see it in a new light.





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