Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts New Dean

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Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts combines multiple disciplines: arts, media, engineering, design, film, dance, theater and music, as well as the ASU Art Museum. The institute now has a new dean, Steven Tepper, a social scientist and policy scholar who is one of the nation’s top authorities on creativity and cultural participation. He will talk about his new role and his vision for the institute.

Ted Simons: The institute for design and arts has a new Dean, and he is Steven Tepper, a social scientist and policy scholar, and one of the nation's top authorities on creativity and cultural participation. He joins us to talk about his vision for the institute. Welcome to Arizona Horizon.

Steven Tepper: Thank you.

Ted Simons: What is this institute designed to do?

Steven Tepper: It is the largest design and arts school in the nation. We have 4,600 majors, and it combined five different schools into one, and we have a museum attached to it. So we have a school of design, and we have a school of film, dance and theater. A school of art and engineering, a school of music, and a school of art. So, that's an incredible set of programs. 120 different degrees in programs. So, students have -- if they want to be creative, they can do -- they can do it all at, at the Herberger institute.

Ted Simons: It sounds like, though, it's more than just being creative. The concept of cultural participation and how that creativity moves over into society. Talk to us about what all that means, the importance of it.

Steven Tepper: Well, in many ways, a little historical context here. In the 19th century, the arts were part of everybody's everyday life. If you wanted to listen to music, you played it on your front porch or played the piano in your parlor. If you wanted an image of a loved one, you drew it yourself. If you wanted to listen to Shakespeare, you performed it. The 20th century was an era where the national markets were created to deliver art and culture to us as passive consumers. In the 21th century is really an opportunity to place the arts back at the center of everyday life. And so, the Herberger institute is really -- sees itself as trying to put forward new ways that the arts can matter in the world, and not be off to the side as a grace note or a fringe.

Ted Simons: So talk about some of the ways that arts can matter now in the modern world.

Steven Tepper: Yeah, so one of the things that as a core design principle of the core institute is that the arts are critical for developing core, creative competencies. So, we're living in what many call the creative age, the rise of the creative class, cities are competing with each other to attract creative workers. The 1500 top CEOs, when they were surveyed, say creativity is the one thing that is most important to them, in hiring recent graduates, and so where does that come from, how do you learn it? We know that it's not just innate, that, actually, it's -- there is a sort of creative muscle that you have to practice and exercise and get better at. We're convinced that happens at the best design and art schools. Students learn how to deal with ambiguity. They learn how to be generative to come up with lots of ideas. They learn how to revise their ideas, and they learn how to use analogies and metaphors to think of things that are sort of outside of, of what is expected. They learn how to collaborate around emerging creative projects where the solution is unknown. They not only problem solve, but they find problems that the rest of us don't see. So, this is what happens, whether you are learning music or design or architecture or you are a dance student who knows what it means to ask the what-if questions prepare our students to be creative catalysts in the world, whether they are working in the arts or whether they go into other fields.

Ted Simons: What do you say to critics who now look at higher education, and they say, we're not preparing students for the working world. We need to get them more focused on maybe STEM, maybe other aspects that will more directly impact their working lives. What do you say to those folks who say, that's, that's a little too artsy fartsy.

Steven Tepper: The first thing I would say is, experts predict 47% of the occupations in the next two decades don't even exist today. So, what are we training students for? We don't know what we don't know. The, the other thing is that even -- research suggests that even students that train in the technical fields like biology or accounting, only half of them end up working fields related to what they studied. So, we are living in a world with protean careers. People are moving across sectors, across occupational roles, and in fact, the average number of jobs that someone will hold between the age of 22 and 44 is 11 different jobs. So, we have got to train students to have a broad tool kit of creative competencies that they can flexible deploy and a range of occupations. That's the reality of the lives they will live in. So, you know, so, so the arts are about discipline, about practice, about being analytical, theoretical. They are not artsy fartsy in the sense that students who have an arts degree, are somehow graduating without a set of skills that they can use in the workplace, and we surveyed over 100,000 graduates of arts institutions, and they are gainfully employed, and even when they go into other careers, like doctors or lawyers or, or, or banking, they say that they are using the skills that they learned in art school in their current work.

Ted Simons: Can you and you mentioned all this, the umbrella of the design in art school, and the different little rubrics there within. And if I am a music major, can I figure out, can I move over to design and art? How difficult is that process? Because a lot of creative people are creative in a very specific way, and, you know, the visual artists never gets into writing, the writer never gets into design. How do you make sure that dynamic exists?

Steven Tepper: Well, what we find, when you, actually, are able to put teams of students together from across disciplines, that they can achieve things that they could not do alone, and that they, they feed off of each other, and the artists, they have to be trained in a discipline, they have to be good at something, if they are compelling, but most of them want to solve puzzles, creative puzzles, social puzzles, and they don't care what tools they use. They are agnostic. They want to make stuff happen in the world, so exposing them to multiple art forms is a benefit, and they are willing to take and borrow and Nash up in order to create the powerful expression that they are after. So, how do we do it? We're still stuck, you know, many design art schools still have silos, and, you know, that 10,000 hours of what's required to become really great at something doesn't always leave enough room for students to be -- to, to take other, to take other subjects. So we're working, you know, and challenging ourselves to give students multiple pathways through, and if they want an interdisciplinary degree, we can help them find a way to do it, and we are creating schools all about it, so we have the school of art, media and engineering, which is at the frontier of any discipline of, of trying to put artists and scientists and engineers to go and say, play together. Make stuff, and then we'll see where that stuff goes and what it might mean and how it might be related to some practical, useful application.

Ted Simons: We have a minute left here, and do you think that America is in danger of losing its expressive life? Obviously, what you are doing is successful, and it's growing, and it's developing, but, in general, are we losing a bit of that?

Steven Tepper: So, here's my feeling about that, you know, we are in some ways experiencing a creative renaissance made possible by new technology. So, you look at YouTube, you think about all of the creative expressions that's happening there. The ability for people to make music in their own homes, to make films, so there is a lot of creativity happening. But, the question, is that creativity being deployed in the full range of areas of human, social public life? Are our policy conversations infused with creativity? Do artists have a place at the table? Are our workplaces organized around creativity? Most importantly, is education placing creativity at the center? So increasingly, the Chinese are looking to us as examples of creative education. They know they are really good at test-taking, but they want to -- they want to prepare students to be able to invent and imagine. They are looking at us as a model, and we are sort of Naval gazing and trying to put more testing. We look more like they do now than we did ten years ago. So, you know, I don't think that we're at risk of losing creativity, but we have got to prioritize it in core areas of the lives.

Ted Simons: All right, very interesting stuff. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Steven Tepper:New Dean, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University;

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