Engaging in the Arts

An Advisor's Playbook for Engaging the Arts

On Monday, November 3rd approximately 60 Pre-Major Advisors came to hear a presentation by fellow PMA and Executive Director of Stanford Arts Programs Matthew Tiews, who shared stories illustrating how work in the arts helps students develop their capacities for creativity, innovation, exploration and inquiry. Following this, we collaboratively crafted an advising tool using the Creative Expression WAYS requirement as the pivot point for helping our advisees identify the arts encounter that might inform, enhance, support or transform their own Stanford experience.  Below, we share highlights from our discussion.

About the Creative Expression (CE) WAYS requirement...

The ability to design, to create, and to perform—each enriches our lives in substantial and meaningful ways. Thinking creatively, giving expressive shape to ideas, and communicating those ideas with imagination and precision are not only indispensable to all artistic endeavors, they also represent broadly applicable skills that strengthen and enhance traditional academic pursuits, stimulate effective problem solving, and foster originality and innovation in new areas.

Using the CE WAYS

We began with a 90 second brainstorm, in small groups: How do YOU use these ways of doing/ways of thinking in your role here at Stanford, and in other aspects of your life…? Responses included:

  • I think creatively… when class is getting boring; when  I have a problem to solve; when I am working with exciting people; when I listen to good music; for fun; ALL the time; when there’s a deadline; when I put myself in a new or different space; when I write.
  • I create when I…write; read; am able to problem-solve in the shower or when washing dishes; I produce an idea, strategy, or solution on the fly; fix something that’s broken; am fixing dinner (!); meditate; teach, lie in bed; argue politics/debate an idea; play music; am walking.
  • I give expressive shape to my ideas when I…cook; write; talk; design; lecture; brainstorm; interact; sketch; program; web design; organize an event; choose clothing; decorate a room; solve problems; go to workshops; see nature.
  • I communicate my ideas with imagination and precision when I…have time to reflect; talk with students; teach; write; revise and edit; compose music; visualize; kick off a new project; give a talk; don’t feel pressured; brainstorm; run a workshop; have a special space to work in; am trying to sell an idea; have somebody to share ideas with; talk about the future; devise a strategic plan; think about an audience; have materials and tools to work with; am surrounded by creative people.
  • I design when I…am creating a flyer for students; make figures for papers; create academic installments; plan a course syllabus; orchestrate a class (activities, discussion, interactions); do research; prepare for classes; do big picture thinking about a program or initiative; co-ordinate a focus group or survey; revise my web site.

Takeaway: Approaching the Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing that the Creative Expression (CE) WAYS  through the lenses of our own professional roles and personal experiences highlights the lifelong value of these skills and capacities. ..and why are these skills and capacities valuable?

These WAYS help me...try new things; find better ways of doing something; relieve stresss; create something beautiful or useful; engage with others; build connections and relationships; organize and effectively convey information; see other’s perspectives; persuade people; teach people; learn something new; grow as a person, scientist, professional or scholar; accomplish goals; advance knowledge; lead more effectively; be a better friend, parent.

What questions do I ask, to help my advisee figure out how to get the most out of the CE WAYS?

  • What are your goals?
  • What fears or challenges are you facing? Consider that a student who struggles with public speaking may really benefit from an improv or theater performance class, but may not be considering how this opportunity may interesect with that particular need.
  • What is your passion? Note that many students may worry what it means that they don’t have a “passion” so alternatives to this question include, what sparks your interest? What are you curious about? What do you enjoy? Be aware of how a fixed/growth mindset may impact this conversation. A student who thinks that you have to have “talent” to play an instrument or take a dance class may think those options aren’t for him/her, even if there’s an interest there. To that end, you might ask questions about how he/she approaches risk, and whether/why it feels risky to step outside his/her comfort zone. Reminder: some CE classes can be taken C/NC at the instructor’s discretion, and this option (if available for the desired class) may assuage some anxiety.

What does your student need, by way of information, tools, or resources to create an experience that is personally relevant for him/her?

  • Contacts and/or introductions to faculty or upperclass students
  • Inspiring, supportive, or encouraging mailing list(s) to connect to the right opportunity
  • materials, equipment, supplies...there are grants that can help.
  • venues for rehearsal or performance or studio space
  • a CE class hot list that of classes especially for freshmen/sophomores
  • online videos to share, for inspiration
  • exhibition space
  • time
  • help focusing or narrowing down options
  • Tell your advisees about the Chappell-Lougee Scholarship, which supports full-time funding for in‐depth projects in the humanities, creative arts, and qualitative social sciences during the summer after the sophomore year. Some students use the Chappell Lougee as preparation for a later honors research project--others seize the opportunity to step outside the bounds of their major.

What else can we do as advisors?

Some good ideas...

  • Take your advisee(s) to a venue. Note that the Anderson Collection and the Cantor Museum are free to visit. Why not schedule your quarterly meeting to take place as you walk through a museum?
  • PMA Night at the Cantor? Sure, why not! The Cantor is open until 8 pm on Thursday evenings. Invite current and former advisees for an outing.
  • As advisors who champion a liberal education, we can talk about how we use and value creativity in our own lives, and why we think a balanced education is valuable and worthwhile.
  • Bring your students to a performance! It was suggested that we might get tickets to a performance at the Bing Concert Hall, for an event where advisors invite their students. This is completely doable, and we’ll give it a shot later this year. Great idea!
  • If you have an upper class student that you advise who has had a positive experience engaging the arts, invite that student to join you for lunch at the dining hall, or for a Faculty Club lunch with your cohort! Let your advisees learn from/be inspired by one another.
  • Let your advisees know that volunteering as an usher at the Bing Concert Hall is a great way to see musical performances for free; also, there are good on-campus jobs at our Campus museums that are regularly advertized in the weekly newsletter and here

What about opportunities and resources for advisors?

The artsCatalyst Grants are used to subsidize class trips to performances and exhibitions; guest visits to classes and studios; and materials for course projects and productions. Examples of successful grants might include taking a history class to see a theater production; inviting a physicist to visit a dance course; or materials for a political science course to make films. These grants are available to faculty and academic staff members for undergraduate and graduate courses in any department or school. Instructors may apply for up to $1,500 per course.

The Curricular Development Grant program support the development of new courses and the modification of existing courses that expand undergraduates’ opportunities for intellectual excitement and academic rigor. New courses that grow directly from faculty research and regular course updates are considered part of the regular work of the University faculty and are normally not eligible for support. Successful projects completed recently include extensive reformulation of core courses for a major and development of innovative field studies research courses in earth sciences and engineering. The level of grant support typically ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 for modest curricular innovation, and up to $10,000 for a more substantial faculty project. Funds are provided on a one-time basis. 

Curricular Innovation Engaging the Arts grants are available to faculty to develop a new Creative Expression course or revise an existing course in a manner that engages or reconsiders the arts within the course activities and student projects.  Awards of up to $5,000 for a single project or course.