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Embracing the Arts – Full STEAM ahead

Susan Van Vorst is Dean of the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this fall. A version of this column advocating for the arts first appeared on cleveland.com and in SUN newspapers.

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Susan Van Vorst, Dean, BW Conservatory of Music

In a world fixated on the pragmatic, the pursuit of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has taken center stage. But in the rush to embrace science and technology, there's one critical letter we shouldn’t leave behind. The 'A' representing the Arts that turns STEM into STEAM. And just as steam-powered early engines, STEAM is vital for the flourishing of a creative society.

The broader questions often asked are whether the arts are worth our support, and if the study of arts and music can lead to viable employment opportunities. As the Dean of the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music, I believe the answer to both questions is an emphatic yes.

Power of the arts

At the BW Conservatory of Music, we've witnessed the transformative power of the arts in the lives of our students and our community. The vast majority of our graduates venture into diverse paths after graduation, including graduate school, K-12 teaching appointments, music therapy internships and Broadway careers.

Those who remain in Northeast Ohio contribute significantly to the regional cultural landscape, establishing private teaching studios, performing in local ensembles, composing for and collaborating on a broad spectrum of artistic projects, and fueling the creative economy through appointments as arts administrators.

Making a life in the arts

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Students performing at the Baldwin Wallace Bach Festival - the oldest collegiate Bach festival in the nation.

This fall, we herald the BW Conservatory of Music’s largest entering class in six years. A total of 91 new music majors now call BW home; an additional 23 students begin their BW careers pursuing BA degrees with majors in Music, Arts Management & Entrepreneurship and Music Industry. Conservatory students hail from 20 states and Shanghai, China.

Can these Conservatory graduates truly make a living in Northeast Ohio following graduation? The unequivocal answer is yes, though it may involve a portfolio career — a blend of artistic endeavors and income-generating activities. Most gigging musicians in Northeast Ohio have steady day jobs that provide the foundational stability they require. This approach allows young professionals to achieve financial stability while advancing their artistic aspirations, making them invaluable contributors to our region's cultural fabric.

A collective approach

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Students in the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music's Music Theatre program performing on the mainstage at Playhouse Square's Marquee Moments event (Fall 2023).

For Northeast Ohio to maintain its exceptional talent and creative vibrancy, we must move beyond individual artistic efforts. We must collectively recognize the value of the arts and invest in their growth and sustainability. Should there be more public, foundation, and individual support for the arts? Absolutely.

Supporting the arts is not just about finances; it's an investment in our community's heart and soul. Increased support for individual artists and their projects is not a luxury but a strategic necessity. By nurturing creativity incubators that encourage artistic collaboration, experimentation, and development, we can expand our artistic community, forge career-enhancing connections for emerging talent, and leverage the arts to address broader societal and community needs. 

Fueling the creative economy

Envision a Northeast Ohio where creativity knows no bounds, where artists thrive, and where innovation and expression harmonize with STEM disciplines. This vision is attainable, but it demands unwavering commitment to STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. The 'A' in STEAM isn't an afterthought; it's a fundamental element in shaping a well-rounded and prosperous society.

As we look to the future, let's embrace the arts with open hearts and financial fuel, recognizing that our investment in creativity yields dividends that extend beyond economic returns. Let's celebrate the artists who enrich our lives — actors, designers, dancers, sculptors and musicians — who ignite our spirits and challenge our perspectives. Let's safeguard the 'A' in STEAM, for it holds the key to a future where innovation and imagination flourish side by side.

A version of this column advocating for the arts first appeared on cleveland.com and in SUN newspapers.

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