Are the arts worth it in a STEM world? Art leaders in Northwest Arkansas say yes

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NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KNWA/FOX 24) — The U.S. continues to lag behind some of the world’s major countries in terms of science, technology, engineering and math graduates, some students may be feeling the pressure to leave a possible career path towards the arts and pursue in STEM.

“The arts are inclusive, curious, connection inclined and relentlessly pliable,” said Christopher Schulte, Endowed Associate Professor of Art Education and Assistant Director of the School of Art.

“I discovered dance late as a teenager,” said David Sanders, Executive Director of the Ozark Ballet Theater. “It just overwhelmed me, and it challenged me.”

“I think that art specifically is the message you want to communicate with your audience,” said Vanessa Davis, a graphic design student at the University of Arkansas.

Davis plans to pursue a career in graphic design, defying any pressure she may have felt to pursue a STEM career.

“Definitely there was that pressure, not really from my family but from other people saying that I wouldn’t make that much money or be that comfortable,” she said. “But it was all about what would make me happy.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average salary for STEM careers in 2017 was more than $87,000, compared to an average of about $45,000 for all non-STEM jobs.

Davis said her love for graphic design started in high school when she joined the school newspaper.

“Currently, we have about 8,000 students in our VPA program,” said Dr. Martin Reynolds, Director of Visual and Performing Arts at Bentonville Schools.

He said starting an interest in the arts in K-12 is crucial.

“So they can see themselves in situations where they can be productive,” he said. “Maybe they decide to be a professional artist, but really they can see how it applies to their life after high school.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations said India produced about 2.7 million STEM post-secondary graduates in 2018, whereas the U.S. produced about $700,000 that same year.

So does this mean that students should focus solely on STEM careers to catch up? Schulte doesn’t think so.

“I think arts education prepares students to assess with care, to foster thoughtful solutions and inclusive practices, to ask questions that others may not ask,” he said.

“Much of our industry, even here in Bentonville, is looking for people with creative edge and inventive ideas,” agreed Dr. Reynolds. “It prepares our students in a way that I think is much different than a STEM education can.”

The National Endowment of the Arts said there were nearly 2.5 million artists in the U.S. labor force as of 2019. David Sanders is one of them, but he said the point of pursuing art isn’t always about making it a career.

“You should never say, oh I’ll never make a job out of this because that’s not the point,” he said. “You can take classes like somebody would take a yoga class. You can go in and create dances and you can do all of that, so if it’s your passion, please, please, please continue enjoying it as long as you can.”

“You just want to do what makes you happy,” said Davis. “You don’t have to move all the way to New York to be successful. There’s so many opportunities in Northwest Arkansas alone.”

Davis plans to join SAM’s club as a graphic designer after graduating this upcoming May.

Sanders said Ozark Ballet Theater is currently fundraising so it can continue offering free ballet classes at the Fayetteville Public Library. Visit the non-profit’s Facebook page to learn more, or visit it’s fundraising page.

Dr. Reynolds encourages parents to foster their child’s artistic passions wherever it may take them.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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