By: Nichole Rustad – Contributing Writer
Floor-to-ceiling white boards cluttered with writing and sketches line the walls in the ArtStreet creator space on Kiefaber Street. Crayons, dolls and Legos are piled on long tables in the center of the room. Music plays from the speakers while three undergraduates work on an art installation inspired by a question: “Competence at age 5-7: Can I make it in the real world?”
ArtStreet, the University of Dayton’s multidisciplinary imagination center, has piloted a new Institute for Arts Nexus, or IAN. It is a place for students who want more from their degree program than a list of courses and a slate of projects, to have a great GPA and creative competency.
It starts with imagination.
IAN integrates creativity-generating sessions into an academic setting meant to stimulate innovative thinking in students of any major.
“There’s no right or wrong — just process,” Brian LaDuca, director of ArtStreet, said.
Students learn real-world application of creativity, working across disciplines toward a common goal. At ArtStreet, engineers, educators, marketers, biologists, designers and activists get into the frame of mind to articulate the change they want to see in the world and develop creative projects that can inspire that change.
“The mission is to empower a forward-thinking 21st-century student with the ability to confidently develop the imaginative and creative skills necessary to impact today’s innovative and global workforce – regardless of degree focus,“ LaDuca said. “Making the world a better place — it’s an opportunity meant for the social sciences student to the human rights activist to the political science major, and we cover all points in between.”
LaDuca said IAN and its collective community are re-imagining and reshaping learning to incorporate innovative thinking and molding students’ talents and skills to go out and impact the world.
Sometimes, he said, it involves playing with toys and speaking to their teenage selves through letters to get to the core of that creativity.
Many universities in the Midwest are experiencing low enrollment. LaDuca said he believes it’s because they are not modifying their programs to meet the demands of the world. As the first institute of its kind in the southwestern Ohio region, IAN is doing just that. It has the creative and imaginative power to influence social, cultural, commercial and industrial studies across the university, he said.
“We want better empathic human students of every discipline, not just coming from the social sciences,” LaDuca said. “This is an opportunity to create a holistic student that speaks to both sides because the world wants that 360-degree employee. People are getting rated on competency rather than results.”
The School of Engineering has been a strong supporter of ArtStreet’s pilot thus far. Ken Bloemer, a member of the IAN collective community and the director of the school’s Visioneering Center, said the program prompts students to think beyond textbook problem solving.
“Instead of providing information on a silver platter to students, this is provoking deep thought,” Bloemer said, adding that the School of Engineering does a good job of educating the left side of the brain — the analytical side — and IAN educates the right. IAN is “education on steroids,” he said, and the best example of multidisciplinary education at UD. It’s the only place he finds religious studies students collaborating with those in business, social justice, art and engineering.
“It’s all about fusion and creative cohesion. Students lack confidence. IAN builds creative confidence, which is key because you can have all the best ideas in the world, but if you don’t have the confidence to speak up, it doesn’t do any good,” Bloemer said. “IAN goes back to the basics.”
Imagination comes first, which leads to creativity, then sparks innovation. Ultimately, innovation is what people are seeking in higher education, he said, sharing his experience of working with several engineering students on an exhibition installation – something his students usually shy away from.
The result was not only positive, but also attitude altering, Bloemer said.
“Through IAN, I gained true sources for innovation, not just the sources for research,” senior computer engineering major Dan Prince said. “In fact, if we always just relied on research, then we wouldn’t create anything new.”
The most recent White Box Gallery exhibition, GHETTO, is a great example of the IAN collaborative process, according to LaDuca, because students, faculty and staff in many disciplines influenced the direction of the installation.
“That’s the reason we are doing IAN and why I moved my family from Chicago,” he said. “To influence the future of this generation and the future for my children.”
Visit udayton.edu/artstreet/ian for more information about IAN and its collective community.