In 2017, Lewis & Clark developed the Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) Plan as a broad strokes framework for attracting and retaining students to the college. Phase I commenced in Fall 2019 and has since resulted in 12 initiatives across all departments of the college. These initiatives include everything from the new Health Studies and Entrepreneurial Leadership and Innovation minors to the newly announced men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse teams.
In 2020 the SEM steering committee began to work on planning Phase II, which includes a fine arts working group dubbed “Arts @ LC.” Co-chaired for its first year by Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities Kathy Fitzgibbon and Associate Professor of Theater Rebecca Lingafelter, Arts @ LC is a comprehensive four-year initiative aimed at drawing arts students to LC and has started work this 2021 school year.
“The goal is to bring more visibility to the arts at LC, enhancing opportunities for students and connecting them more strongly with the vibrant arts scene in Portland,” Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Suttmeier said in a Spring 2021 interview with The Pioneer Log.
Data collected as a part of the proposal for the initiative showed that while 24% of first-year LC students indicate that achievement in the arts is important to them compared to 15% at peer institutions, the college is yielding prospective arts students at a rate of 1.6% lower than the CAS average.
“If you look at the prospective students who say that the arts are really important to them, we’re losing some of them to our competitors before they even get here,” Fitzgibbon said. “Once they get here, they are happy and engaged and doing great work. But there’s a gap between what we can do with them when they get here and their perception of LC. So what we realized is there’s this opportunity to do a better job of telling the story of how fabulous our arts programs are across the board.”
The messaging arm of the initiative is working with the admissions office to figure out how to balance talking about the arts with STEM or other fields of interest that might be attractive to prospective students. Admissions Counselor and liaison to Arts @ LC Zara Kazi sees this new initiative as an opportunity to expand the information given to prospective students during information sessions.
“On my end of things, for information sessions, it would be cool to have some talking points about the arts at LC,” Kazi said. “I think it’s also just a great thing so we know, as admissions counselors, what is going on with the arts? What events are happening? So we can then point prospective students to those events to attend.”
Prospective students often have some idea of what they are looking for in a college, but their interests in extracurriculars and potential majors has the potential to be influenced. LC wants to brand itself as a place that is the right fit for every prospective student.
“I don’t know exactly what every 18-year-old is looking for,” Lingafelter said. “But it seems to me in terms of the mission of the college as a place to foster a holistic period of study, is that LC is the kind of place where you can do data science and you can do STEM and you can also perform on the Main Stage and do all three things at a really high level.”
The new initiative proposes a clear vision of what art can look like on campus. As their Instagram page states, they aim to “create a new era of unity between all of Lewis & Clark’s amazing Arts Departments.”
Administrative Assistant for Arts @ LC Lucinda Law spoke more about the messaging problems the College has had regarding the art departments, and where Arts @ LC fits in.
“Arts @ LC is the missing link in LC’s arts scene,” Law said via email. “I think people always have a specific image of the arts and what it should be, and Arts @ LC works to break any barriers people may face.”
Kazi described what a typical interaction with a prospective student might look like, and how it can be difficult sometimes to discuss the arts when there is no structure provided for how to do it.
“Each admissions counselor does their own (information session), there is no script or anything that we use,” Kazi said. “So it would be helpful for admissions counselors if they want to talk more about the arts to be able to have some talking points from Arts @ LC. Right now talking about the arts is more of a one-on-one conversation, if students are interested in it and they come up to me, then I’ll talk about it.”
Year one of the initiative, which began this semester, is all about laying the groundwork for major plans to come. Along with developing connections with the administration and the division of student life, Arts @ LC is planning for mini concerts in Watzek on the first Friday of every month, an alumni arts advisory board which will create connections for graduated students and “pop up” performances to bring art outside of the traditional spaces.
“I have the sense that if you’re connected to the theatre department, then it’s really on your radar when the shows are happening, and you go to that building and you see them,” Fitzgibbon said. “But you’re not going to just run into a pop up theater performance on campus. And we want to change that, so that maybe one day you’re walking through the Manor House gardens and there’s a play happening there or a music group where it just feels like the arts are everywhere.”
One thing to already come out of the initiative is the brand new Creative PDX New Student Trip. Designed by Lingafelter, Creative PDX was intended to create a community of creative people among first-years from their very first weeks on campus, which will then hopefully lead to higher retention rates.
According to Lingafelter, the goal of the trip was for the cohort to realize that they were being given the creative freedom to express their artistic inclinations.
“And from that we get to experiment, what does that do to the energy of student spaces?” Lingafelter said. “What does that do to retention? Is there a different kind of stickiness because they feel that sense of community and that sense of agency? And then also look at the impact on the art departments in terms of having a group of students who have been introduced to the arts at that really early stage.”
The trouble of fully implementing this initiative has been balancing the optics of promoting the arts while acknowledging the fact that art classes were slashed this semester due to lack of faculty. There are no studio art classes being offered above the 100-level this fall due to a number of vacant tenure track positions, which has caused ripple effects throughout LC’s art departments.
“I think (the administration) might not be aware of the repercussions of not filling these positions in terms of the long-term effect,” Associate Professor of Art History Dawn Odell said in a Spring 2021 interview with The Pioneer Log. “If we can’t bring students into 100-level classes in their freshman and sophomore year, then they can’t matriculate to be majors in our department.”
Fitzgibbon believes that the new initiative should help resolve some of these issues with course offerings.
“We feel very strongly that the college cannot be cutting arts courses below the level that we’ve had historically,” Fitzgibbon said. “The administration made those choices before they had access to all of this data that we were able to deliver, and so I think the college can now make more informed decisions about staffing.”
Another staffing issue has been the lack of a full time curator at the Hoffman gallery since Linda Tesner was laid off in 2019. The responsibilities of the curator have fallen on Department Chair Joel Fisher for the last year and a half, but Arts @ LC is seeking to change that.
According to a presentation shared by Fitzgibbon, one of the goals for Year two of the initiative is to “prepare for a re-imagined Hoffman Gallery, to be rolled out in Year three.”
In the meantime, Arts @ LC is focusing on revamping the Platteau and providing accessible, student-run art spaces, programming and events to show both prospective and current students that LC’s art programs are as vibrant and valued as ever.