It has been perhaps a century since the world has undergone such a sweeping, synchronous change. As a convergence of technological advances, societal upheaval, and economic transformation birthed the industrial revolution, so too have instantaneous data sharing, geo-political upheaval, and global connectivity given rise to the “creative economy.” And at this unique juncture in the history of the world, no single group of individuals are as poised to lead as are the artists and designers that make up the ranks of MICA graduates.

MICA Annual Report 2012

Recognized as one of the major contemporary innovators in arts education, MICA has helped to reinvent understanding of the intersection between community engagement and the arts, and many would argue that the College has redefined what that means academically.

During the 2011-12 academic year the college welcomed the first students into its MFA in Community Arts program, which grew out of MICA’s groundbreaking MA in Community Arts program—the first of its kind in the country. Based in MICA PLACE (Programs Linking Art, Culture, and Education)—the College’s campus in a distressed but reenergized East Baltimore neighborhood—the program teaches graduate students how to let their social and civic interests inform their artwork, and then how to use their talents to help children and communities embrace their creative identities. From the same facility, MICA’s MA in Social Design program last year graduated its first class of designers who are focused on using graphic, digital, and environmental design to advance a social agenda that makes the world a better place.

Positively impacting Baltimore is one of MICA’s strategic imperatives. Nothing has made that clearer than the College’s May 2012 inauguration of the Launching Artists in Baltimore (LAB) Fellowships. Designed to encourage MICA’s talented graduate school alumni to stay and work in the Baltimore area, the program awarded $10,000 grants to five graduates. The first class have taken the charge to uplift communities in the city seriously, and has aggressively pursued projects to protect the ecosystem, help children stay fit and healthy, build parks and recreation areas, and promote arts and culture.

MICA’s focus on empowering its graduates to empower others is nothing new for the college. Its impact on children, in the form of K-12 education, has been evident for years. The College’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, for example, has become a national model for producing effective art teachers prepared to use the practice to help children expand their creative, critical thinking, and problem solving abilities. MICA MAT student average pass rate on the Praxis exam, a national standardized test measuring teacher candidates’ skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and art-related content, was 93%—and 97% to 100% for art-related sections. MAT graduates become some of the most sought after teachers in the country, even as budgets for K-12 art education continue to shrink.

Those teachers are incredibly important for America’s long term competitiveness and prosperity. Their impact on students is measurable and significant. Students who receive arts education are likelier to stay in school and do better on standardized tests; and high schools tudents who are exposed to arts training for four years average 100 points higher on their SAT tests than high school students with no art education. Studio arts is one of the most fertile areas in which to grow the creativity that CEOs say their companies have the most critical need for in the workplace today. Ninety-four percent of superintendents say studio arts develops creativity in high school. And kids who are involved in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. Achievements in the arts also lead to increased confidence among young people—a ten-year National Educational Longitudinal Survey found that young people taking part in arts programs were 23% more likely to say that they could do things as well as most other people and 31% more likely to plan to continue education after high school.

MA in Social Design Program alumna Becky Slogeris ’12 leads students in exercises from a series of playing cards she designed to encourage school children to stay fit.

Education is not the sole area where the arts empower communities, however. The impact is multi-faceted and global. In the United States, for example, a study of the final decades of the last century showed that deteriorating neighborhoods in Philadelphia with many cultural assets were three to four times more likely to be revitalized than other at risk areas, and a study of distressed neighborhoods in the early part of the last decade found that those with cultural assets were more likely to see dramatic improvement in housing markets. In Australia, 90 percent of people who participated in nine community arts projects indicated that the projects had a lasting impact on the development of their communities. Seventy-one percent of people that took part in 17 London-based arts projects felt an improvement in confidence and self-esteem. Back in the United States, almost one-half of healthcare institutions provide arts programming; 78 percent of the institutions invest in the programming because of healing benefits that include shorter hospital stays and reduced the need for medication.

With dozens of courses focused on community engagement (and more being created), MICA continues to set the national standard in demonstrating how art and artists can bring out the best in people and buttress communities. The focus has taken place at both the undergraduate and graduate level. That investment— in personnel, time, and resources—has led to the production of graduates who are making a measurable difference in people’s lives everywhere.