Student Artwork provided by April Cox.
Photo courtesy of the Texas Cultural Trust.

 Student Artwork provided Mandy Epley. Photo courtesy of the Texas Cultural Trust.

Student Artwork provided by Mandy Epley.
Photo courtesy of the Texas Cultural Trust.

As every working artist knows, being a creative means being an entrepreneur, and being an entrepreneur means being connected to the digital world. Training the next generation of artists to be business-savvy individuals is one of the goals of the Texas Cultural Trust’s Arts and Digital Literacy Initiative, a program that was recently named a “Partners in Education Institute” by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The Arts and Digital Literacy Initiative is a high school curriculum developed by the Texas Cultural Trust, whose mission is to promote the importance of the arts in education. The Trust’s programs include the Texas Medal of Arts Awards, the Texas Young Masters Program, and Create Texas, as well as support for the Texas Commission on the Arts.

The way program director Caroline Hammand sees it, the Arts and Digital Literacy Initiative is essential in bridging the gap between fine arts and technology in Texas. “It’s very important because we are experiencing one of the biggest shifts in history, from book literacy to screen literacy. In our everyday lives, we’re interacting with screens. The fine arts and the teaching of fine arts is the basis for the digital media revolution.”

Combining both skill sets is essential for success in the workplace, as Hammand points out that businesses are beginning to see the importance of creativity and the value of employees who can think outside the box. The Initiative also provides another avenue for those students who are not interested in the traditional arts: “The skills taught through the curriculum allow students to develop a sense of self and understand who they are in this digital world.”

As a partnership team of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Texas Cultural Trust will now be able to expand the Initiative’s reach by providing professional development to educators teaching the arts. The Texas Cultural Trust co-applied with MINDPOP, whose mission is to build communities where every student achieves through creative learning, to conduct arts integration training in Austin Independent School District. The result is a digital media curriculum that includes art, music, theater, and dance.

Student Artwork provided by April Cox. Photo courtesy of the Texas Cultural Trust.

Student Artwork provided by April Cox.
Photo courtesy of the Texas Cultural Trust.

What distinguishes the Arts and Digital Literacy Initiative is that it provides a day-by-day curriculum, which is unusual in traditional arts education. As a result, “students feel very engaged in the classes,” observes Hammand. “They are able to learn a lot and bring who they are to the classroom.” The classes are so engaging that Hammand recalls a fall semester at a school in which no absences were recorded. Perfect attendance provides a major incentive for Texas schools to offer the curriculum, as state funding is contingent on attendance.

Every high school student in Texas is required to have one fine arts credit before graduation. The elective courses offered by the Initiative have already been in the schools for five years. But with the approval of the new standards for the Fine Arts (the Texas Essential Knowledge Kills, or TEKS) by the Texas State Board of Education, the Initiative courses will now be offered for a fine arts credit in the fall. Students across the state can gain access to the courses if their respective schools decide to incorporate the curriculum.

So just what might a student expect to find in, say, Dance and Media Communications I? In addition to the locomotor skills of a traditional technique class, students integrate dance skills with technology applications to create animation, digital images, multimedia presentation, digital video, websites, and more.

The course will then conclude in a final project that utilizes the student’s dance and digital media know-how to create a product that addresses a concern within his/her community. The project requires research skills, interaction with an audience, and a connection to an online community. If that doesn’t sound like the tools needed to build a successful Kickstarter campaign, I don’t know what does.

“I think every artist runs their own business,” explains Hammand.  “They have to understand the importance of social media and communicating their brand. An artist has to share what they’re doing with the world, and this isn’t done by mail anymore, but through digital communication.”

—ADAM CASTAÑEDA