Members of AU’s art department want more program opportunities for growth and community building

“Leaning into the community that is so special in AU is something that I wish I had done a lot sooner."

Members of AU’s art department want more program opportunities for growth and community building

From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's April 2023 print edition. You can find the digital version here

Located in the nation’s capital, American University is most commonly known for its political science and international studies programs. But students in AU’s Department of Art have found an outlet to express their creativity. Providing students with the opportunity to engage in a strong arts program can help them have an outlet to express creativity, but without necessary funding and opportunities, it can be hard to develop a robust program.    

Students and faculty say that they want to increase opportunities and resources with help from AU to further develop the program. The department offers majors in art history, graphic design, photography and studio art for undergraduate and graduate students. In fall 2022, there were 81 bachelor’s students whose primary major was located in the Department of Art, while there were 1,544 bachelor’s students whose primary major was international studies.  

Logan Forbis, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Communication, said that she loves how small the community is in the Department of Art but wishes the program had more funding than it does now.     

“I definitely feel more supported by my professors, as opposed to the University as a whole,” Forbis said about program funding. “There are some things that you simply cannot do without certain materials, as opposed to some subjects, where access to textbooks can be solved through the library and access to other materials can be more easily given by a campus.” 

Andrea Pearson, the chair of the Department of Art and a professor of art history, emphasized the importance of funding. Funding and space “are things that are give and take, push and pull all the time on campus,” she said.     

“There are people who have donated to the art department so we have donors, most of the time those are scholarships,” Pearson said. “We have some of those. We always wish we had more.” 

Jasmine Pelaez, AU’s internal communications manager, told The Eagle in an email, that “AU’s 2-year budget process is transparent and provides multiple opportunities for participation and input from our students, faculty, and staff. The University Budget Committee collects information on priorities and requirements from all campus constituencies through various forms of outreach. Each school, including the College of Arts and Sciences, gathers budget requests submitted by its individual departments to help inform the budget process. This process allows us to achieve multi-year operational efficiency.”     

Naoko Wowsugi, an associate professor in the Department of Art, explained the importance of making sure students have access to materials and events to showcase their work. She said student artists should be encouraged to connect to the D.C. art scene and discover what is beyond AU.     

Despite these hurdles in a smaller department, students manage to bring passion and creativity into their work.     

Wowsugi said community building and highlighting students begins in the classroom. She emphasized the art program as a growing department at AU and that the aim should be to create a more inclusive community through art by providing students with a path that diverges from a typical academic one.     

When doing art, “you learn about yourself, what you prefer, what you like. And that, finding who you are, create[s] appreciation for others to be who they are,” Wowsugi said.   

Julia Lane, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, described the professors in the Department of Art as personable.     

“I find that all of the teachers that I’ve had so far are incredibly passionate about what they teach,” Lane said.     

In the busy atmosphere of AU, it is important to have an art, work and life balance, Wowsugi said. Wowsugi stressed the importance of promoting the benefits of being an art major as well as the need to have new conversations and course offerings. When students get academically overloaded, it can be difficult to tap into their creative sides, she said.    

“Even students who aren’t majoring in art may get internships based on skills they have picked up in classes such as video editing,” Wowsugi said.     

Double majoring can be a great way to find inspiration, Wowsugi said. When students are able to manage their time, double majoring can provide another outlet for students to be creative and forge connections between various interests. With a more interdisciplinary approach, students can incorporate their academic studies into the creation of art, Wowsugi explained.  

Forbis, who has majors in journalism and graphic design, said there can be a stigma around majoring in something art related but the need for digital design is helping graphic design get a better reputation as a major.     

“I would say that most of the majors we have don’t come in knowing that they’re going to major in what we offer," Pearson said. For those who don’t necessarily want to create art or work in a museum, “there are opportunities in grant writing and nonprofits.” 

Some students may feel hesitant to study art because they aren’t aware of all of the possibilities that being an art major can provide.

“Presenting to people what you could do with an art history major could potentially create an environment where students feel more comfortable about considering it as an option,” Lane said. Lane suggested making sure first year advisors are more knowledgeable about AU’s art majors, so students interested in double majoring can have more tailored first-year advising experience. “It’s pretty discouraging that the bigger majors have things like major specific job fairs and career support that are not a thing or lacking in the arts program in my experience,” Lane said.     

For those in the arts at AU, they say it sometimes is hard to find ways to get other students to see the department in the same light they do when they may not have as much exposure to it. But learning how to make connections between the arts and other interests is important, students say.     

“We understand how our discipline connects to other kinds of ways of exploring the world that students might be interested in,” Pearson said. These interests include gender, religion or geography, she said.     

Despite being small, students in the Department of Art say they feel inspired to discover and develop their passions.     

“Leaning into the community that is so special in AU is something that I wish I had done a lot sooner,” Forbis said.

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