Traverse City Record-Eagle


September 14, 2010

New major lets students study many subjects

INTERLOCHEN — Dance? Choir? Viola? Media arts?

Kelli Brush has studied them all.

So when it came to choosing a major at Interlochen Arts Academy, the freshman from Grand Rapids didn't want to focus on just one arts discipline. Instead she decided to explore them all — or as many as she can fit into her schedule — as a Comparative Arts Major.

The new cross-disciplinary program is making its Academy debut this fall with 19 students — more than twice as many as expected, said Chris Hintz, Interlochen's national marketing and communications manager. It joins existing majors: music, theater, dance, creative writing, visual arts and motion picture arts.

The program was several years in the making, said its director, Bill Church.

"It's something that has been brewing for a while," Church said. "The idea was to capture those students who really wanted to pursue more than one arts discipline at a time."

Brush came to the academy with a broad background in the arts, including 10 years of dance. In her first comparative arts semester she'll take general dance, which touches on both modern dance and ballet, and beginning piano.

"I saw it as an opportunity to expand as an artist all around, and to try some new disciplines and still grow at the old ones," said Brush, 14.

Bronwyn MacLeod, 16, has taken several theater courses but will add playwriting and ekphrastic writing — or visual description — to her class schedule this semester.

"I haven't done a lot of writing before so that's definitely new to me," said MacLeod, a senior from Victoria, British Columbia.

Church said the student-directed program also allows students to pursue studies that are slightly outside Interlochen's normal offerings and gives them opportunities to express themselves artistically in a medium of their choosing. This year's students are interested in aerial dance, book publishing and animation, among other arts.

MacLeod majored in theater at Interlochen last year but switched to comparative arts this year.

"I felt like I was outside the lines. I had more interest in contemporary or experimental theater," she said, adding that she likes being able to create something on her own.

Hintz said MacLeod and other students will be able to draw on the entire Interlochen faculty and campus in developing their own creativity.

"They will have the resources and experts in a wide variety of fields that can help them implement their ideas," he said.

Besides multiple art courses, comparative arts majors take a daily aesthetics class and a weekly comparative arts seminar. Upcoming topics include the way veterans are perceived in art, and collaborative arts with artist-poet duo Bill Allen and Fleda Brown, Church said.

Like their counterparts in other majors, comparative arts students also take challenging academic courses and complete and present an annual project.

Church said the new major encourages more academics and features more intersection between academics and arts. For instance, students will examine creating special effects for film, using chemistry.

The academy has always integrated artistic study with college-preparatory academics and has several introductory arts classes designed to reach out to beginners and non-majors. But the comparative arts major encapsulates all that in one program, Hintz said.

"The program will be a hub for the collaboration and the exchange of ideas between disciplines," he added.

Church said the comparative arts major is not for the less gifted. Students accepted into the program come with "significant art experience," a high grade point average, and a desire to investigate and synthesize a wide range of arts and academic subjects.

Graduates of the program will be qualified to pursue liberal arts education at any college or university and will be able to use their deep experiences in the arts to develop successful careers in a variety of fields.

"My biggest hope for the program would be that it would turn out well-rounded, aesthetically aware students who are appreciative of the arts around them and are able to express themselves artistically," he said.

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