On May 23, Arts for Colorado had the distinct pleasure of hosting Dr. Steven Tepper’s “Bigger than Me” lecture at the Metro VSA Arts Center on Santa Fe on the intersection of art and the economy, and history of how we teach the arts. Dr. Tepper is the Dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.
“Two defining experiences have long informed Tepper’s work.After drawing a still life during a high school arts class, Tepper felt confident with his technical prowess, but noticed his boot, vase, and book looked far different than those of his classmates.
“I’m not an artist; I’m not drawing weird things,” Tepper recalls thinking at the time. “A seed of doubt was planted.”
He entered college still considering a career in the arts where he encountered a professor who didn’t believe in grading art. Instead, he gave every student a ‘C’ grade, believing real artists shouldn’t care about grades.”That,” says Tepper, “was the last art class I ever took.”
Tepper believes that art and design are central to public life and artists aren’t some “rare, crazy, eccentric” breed.”Those experiences redirected me,” Tepper says. “I’ve spent much of my life trying to dispel those myths.”
Tepper is working from an important premise: art and design create value in every sector, including education and the economy while offering people with creative problem-solving skills which is precisely what the 21st century world demands.
Today’s college graduates hold an average of 11 jobs between the ages of 22 and 44 and Tepper believes that time studying art and design can help people in every field become better creators and collaborators who move more readily between shifting landscapes.
“The artist in the 21st century is a civic leader who works nimbly across sectors,” Tepper says. The vast majority of art graduates work in the arts but those who don’t, say their arts training is relevant to their career.
Tepper hopes his work will help the nation’s half-million art students better appreciate the value of their degrees and “create a model that others will follow.”
Tepper states that art ecologies get more institutionalized over time, And the players, the rules, and the philanthropy are set in major cities, making it “harder to see innovative models there.”
The arts now operate on an old model centered on building non-profit, discipline-based institutions where boards set certain income goals, and audience development is focused on ticket sales.
Tepper add that a few hundred of the country’s more than 100,000 non-profit arts organizations have succeeded wildly but it’s a costly enterprise because they’ve built a lot of facilities that are starving the arts now.
Members and audiences are decreasing and younger audiences don’t want to participate in old ways. “There’s a new reality,” he adds.
So what’s to be done? “In general, innovation happens through cohort replacement,” Tepper says. “New entrepreneurs and artists will dream up what’s next, not the ones with a stake in the game. Organizations can help themselves by taking young leadership in the arts seriously,” suggests Tepper. When it comes to defining what a truly creative and collaborative environment looks like, those working in the arts only have 10 percent of the answer. The rest is yet to emerge.