Saturday, October 27, 2012

This Liberal Arts grad in Wyoming urges Florida creatives to come to a place where they are valued

Florida's Gov. Rick Scott and his hand-picked education commission want to charge creatives more college tuition than science and math majors. Students in creative fields at the big Florida universities, such as UF (my alma mater) and FSU (the enemy campus in Tallahassee), will pay more than students pursuing high-demand fields, such as ag and engineering and medicine. Read all about in the Huffington Post.

I have only one response: Go West, young creatives. In the Big Square States, we value your contributions. Thus far, Colorado and Wyoming and New Mexico and Utah are not talking about charging higher tuition for budding painters than they are for budding lawyers. Sure, tuition is rising, but the Colorado governor (himself a creative sort and an arts supporter) and legislature have said nothing about charging a higher rate for a poet than for a pediatrician. This is a good thing, as I would like to see more writers and musicians attending Colorado State University in Fort Collins than fewer. Sure, I want the pre-med people too, and the computer tech and agronomy majors. We need creativity in all economic sectors. But to charge more? Absurd.

I earned my master of fine arts degree in creative writing from CSU in 1992. I parlayed that into a career in arts administration. Along the way, I've published my own work and continue to do so.

I'm also talking about the University of Wyoming in Laramie. For the first time, according to the UW President's special assistant Mike Massie. campus enrollment has crept above 14,000. 14,000? That's the number of business majors at UF. And, a few years ago, UW embarked on an amazing building boom. Know what the coolest new buildings are on campus? Visual arts and the expanded library. Anthropology, too, and business. The performing arts building will soon get a multimillion dollar overhaul. And so will one of the oldest buildings on campus, the one that houses the English Department and humanities. The English Department! That includes the fine creative writing program, too, a place that boasts fine writers such as Alyson Hagy and Brad Watson and Jeff Lockwood, who's a bug scientist (entomologist,, for those non-English majors) and a fine writer. There's also a slate of visiting writers that will knock your socks off: Salman Rushdie, Francine Prose, John D'Agata, Rebecca Solnit, Don DeLillo, etc. 

Come West, young creatives. We won't stigmatize you or your passions. It will still remain difficult to find jobs, English majors. No guarantees! You still will have student loans to repay and you still must eat (unofficial Wyoming state motto: "You can't eat the scenery"). But a blue ribbon state commission will not tell you that your dreams are worth less than others.

A word about campus censorship. And this is especially important for visual artists. You may have heard about the removal of Chris Drury's environmental sculpture, "Carbon Sink." It truly was a cowardly act, removing a sculpture just because it offended the state's coal industry. We are a conservative state with some heinous attitudes. We have our own birthers and fundies and "Don't Tread on Me" loonies. But what the heck -- you now live in Florida with the likes of Rick Scott and Marco Rubio. The Florida Panhandle is about as redneck as it gets. And you don't have to read Carl Hiaasen's Miami Herald columns or his funky novels to understand the lamebrain nature of the Florida legislature. If you're going to be embroiled in an arts controversy, you may as well come West where the air is clean and you can escape to nearby mountains for solitude and inspiration.

The Front Range is also known (by some) as the Silicon Valley of Craft Breweries. While I shy away from encouraging indulgence in spiritous substances, I also know that  where there are microbrews, there are artrepreneurs and mountain bike shops and nifty bistros and high-tech start-ups. Scientists have yet to prove the axiom: "Which comes first, the microbew or the creative economy." I do know that they go together. When it comes to overindulgence, it's a fact that the craft beer community polices its own. So, if you want to get drunk and cut the fool, you can go back to Florida, get your Parrothead on and drink Jimmy Buffett's crappy beer. Sorry, Jimmy, I love your music but dislike your books and beer. Can't do everything well, even if you do have a mighty platform to operate from.

In my next post, I'm going to share helpful links that can illustrate to you creatives what "Out West" has to offer.

BTW: Go Gators! Beat the Dawgs!

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