Oberlin College & Conservatory’s Creativity & Leadership Project

MaryClare Brzytwa, Director of Conservatory Professional Development, Oberlin College


How is the curriculum changing to reflect career needs of today’s students?

We are incorporating more technology and entrepreneurship classes into professional development. We are increasing the bandwidth of our traditional professional development practices by working with students on social networking, web design, basic proficiency in the audio and video tools needed to develop and maintain an online portfolio, as well as critical thinking regarding blogging and developing an organic personal brand. One way I am encouraging students to begin the practice of “putting themselves out there” is to work with them in a one on one setting to develop the content for a website with a basic bio, photos, and ( if appropriate) video and audio documentation of their skills. This includes project management planning and developing timelines for recording and mastering in our world class studios and concerts halls. Once we have polished all of the basic ingredients, we work together on the construction of a site. The Office of Professional Development maintains a searchable blog which is constantly being updated with opportunities for professional development and a gig referral service with access to all of these student sites for local community members who are interested in hiring students.

Some students have even begun blogging about their experiences performing in the community. My personal favorite is a student who has begun to keep a collection of photos of every organ she has performed on. We see these services as an opportunity for students to practice for their professional life beyond Oberlin.

What are your and Oberlin’s plans for helping arts students in their career choices?

Oberlin College’s Creativity & Leadership Project is a multi-disciplinary effort designed to encourage students to put their innovative ideas into practice. The project reflects Oberlin’s musical and artistic excellence, academic rigor, and longstanding commitment to preparing students for leadership and civic engagement. Oberlin’s approach to entrepreneurship derives from the synergy between the liberal arts and pre-professional training. It challenges students to imagine their lives beyond Oberlin, to prepare for and “practice” those lives while they are students, and to draw upon and interweave their intellectual and artistic interests, ideas, and aspirations with experiential learning and co-curricular activities as they seek to tackle the questions, challenges, and opportunities of the 21st century. The project emphasizes creativity, leadership, and innovation as attributes at the core of successful ventures in any field.

Open to all Oberlin students, the Creativity & Leadership Project offers various levels of financial support for project development and, through mentored experiential opportunities, courses, workshops, and guest lectures, helps to prepare students for the challenges of implementing their own ideas.

In addition to the C&L program we also offer a one of a kind internship program in the Bay Area that gives students the chance to work in Bay Area arts internships with organizations ranging from a 5-person jazz non-profit to the San Francisco Opera. This year we sent over 30 students to the Bay Area where they interned with an array of organizations, from studio orchestras, string quartets, and light opera theaters to coffee house concert venues, radio talk shows, and elementary school music programs. All tried their hand at many tasks, from marketing and organizing events to teaching and performing. Much of this was accomplished by harnessing Oberlin’s vast alumni network and there are plans to expand the program to New York in the near future.

What opportunities do you foresee developing in the business world for students in the arts?

I am very interested in the intersection of arts and technology. Commercial sound design and composition jobs in the fields gaming, interactive apps, and media in general.

MaryClare Brzytwa is the Director of Conservatory Professional Development, Oberlin College & Conservatory of Music. Information on Oberlin’s programs are at:

Creativity and Leadership Program: http://new.oberlin.edu/office/creativity/
Professional Development Opportunities Blog: http://oberlinconprodev.tumblr.com/
Bay Area Internship Program: http://obiebayarea.tumblr.com/InternshipDescriptions
Gig Referral Service: http://oberlin.edu/career/employers/gig_referral.html


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Designs on the Fashion World

 By Harleen Kaur Chhabra, Fashion Designer

Harleen Chhabra designs

One of the biggest misconceptions about achieving success in the fashion industry is that creativity is everything. The competition in the industry has become so intense over the years that having talent just isn’t enough anymore. A very big part of succeeding in the business is networking and knowing people who can recommend you to someone who is hiring. The industry is so saturated that there are hundreds of unemployed designers all applying for the same jobs which leads to stacks of resumes for employers to go through. If you know someone who can recommend you and attest to your innovation, creativity or motivation as a designer, you’ll have a very strong advantage over the stack of resumes that are sitting on a recruiter’s or manager’s desk. In order to get that advantage, many young designers start out working for temp agencies that specialize in the fashion industry that will assign them short-term jobs where they can meet different people and build up a solid network of references. This is one of the best ways to get experience and network as a young designer and some of the leading agencies include fourthFLOOR fashion, 6The Solomon-Page Fashion, and 24|Seven.

Now, this isn’t to say that creativity and talent account for nothing because creativity is ultimately what allows a company to grow–and this can be applied to any business, even outside the fashion world. Marketing can only go as far as the product will allow, and fashion evolves so quickly that you have to either perfect something that’s already out there or create something that’s not. The problem is that almost everything has already been done. The last century has been filled with almost every style of apparel and accessories you can imagine, which has led to the last 10 or so years simply turning into a recycling of trends rather than the innovation of new ones. There’s not much left to do which is why a lot of designers focus their brands on perfecting certain trends or adding more value and function to their designs for consumers who are more concerned with the value and functionality of clothing rather than the aesthetics. I think it’s important for designers to really think about which of these markets they want to cater to–the value-driven consumer, the trend-driven consumer, or the traditional consumer.

Determining your consumer base is especially essential to those designers who want to own their own label someday because fashion is a consumer-driven industry. One of the biggest challenges a company can face is selling their goods, but this part comes easy when you design with your consumer in mind. Try sketching some stuff for a type of market you haven’t really focused on before–men’s apparel, outerwear, handbags, and shoes are some commonly overlooked fields that may be good to try. Not only will you gain confidence designing outside of your comfort zone, but you may also discover that you like designing for an unfamiliar consumer base better! This type of challenge helps develop designers in many ways and can really help foster creativity. Buyers hate to see–what I like to call–“stale” collections with trends that have been overplayed or overdone, which is why it’s always important to stay creative. A fun way to get some ideas for which other consumers to design for, look on fashion blogs and websites. Two of my personal favorites are Fashion Copious and Refinery 29.

Before beginning to sketch ideas for a collection, it is important gather all of your inspiration and post it on a board that you can look at while sketching. This helps to keep a cohesive look and mood throughout the beginning stages of a collection, and it’s actually my favorite part of designing because it’s where all of my ideas come from. I like to do small thumbnails of the designs first and then choose which ones I’d like to sketch and render since not every idea comes to fruition

Harleen Kaur Chhabra was born and raised in Northern Virginia and attended the University of Connecticut where she received a BFA in Art with a concentration in Illustration and Costume Design. She began her career as an intern for fashion designer Laura Dahl and has recently worked at the Thuy Atelier in New York City as well and the Connecticut Repertory Theatre. She is currently working for Nine West and does freelance fashion design work as well.

Readers with questions are invited to contact Harleen at HarleenKChhabra@gmail.com and to visit her website.




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Artful Original Thoughts: Artist Joann Mettler

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Joann Mettler has followed her artistic passion through a variety of mediums and has found some surprising and delightful subjects along the way. From whimsical pigs and cows to bowls full of flowers with hidden images; from the contents of her colorful shoe closet to capturing facial expressions and making them into a crowd of people-sized faces on wheels, her work is playful, discerning and insightful.

For her, being an artist involves active engagement with the process and her emotions as each work evolves. Here she shares some of her thoughts, entitled My String of Pearls.


Artful original thoughts – Joann Mettler

I paint to lift the human spirit.

Love empowers (a work of art). It’s all bits and pieces but in the end it is something that is deeper than the surface.

You are limited only by your imagination.

Painting is like a lottery ticket; scratch the surface and you’ll find a painting.

I try to find what is in a painting rather than putting it there.

I never know where my work is taking me…I just keep watching, working and following its path.

Creating is like walking through a cloud.

Painting is a process where you construct, deconstruct and then reconstruct.  What’s left is the painting.

To make art YOU need all of your emotions to make sense of your senses.

Artist choices tell the story of themselves; completely personal and inspired by all they have touched, felt and seen.

Art is visual thinking.

Paintings need quiet places.

Painting is my silent music.

In painting, you can’t get away from being yourself.

If you’re not you then who are you?

Your painting is your humble opinion.

Respect your creative hands and don’t expect perfection.

Don’t make it so right that it’s wrong.

I do what I do for you (the viewer)

Your art shouldn’t reveal everything.

A state of mind:  Just being there, No dimensions, No before, No after.

Clouds are like patterned smoke.

It’s not simple to keep life simple.

Is this the rest of your life, or are you resting for the rest of your life?

It’s not what happens to you in life rather it’s how you react to what happens to you.

A sale purchase unneeded is expensive.

Don’t make a decision if you don’t know what decision to make.

I’ve smiled a lot through the years and they’ve made some impressions.

There will never be another you.

Common sense adds up to more than dollars and cents.

I always read the fine print; it is here that you find some important information.

If I didn’t see out of the corner of my eye I wouldn’t see anything.

I try to show you something other than reality.

New isn’t necessarily better; better is better and not necessarily new.

YOU are responsible for your own boredom.

Be there for yourself

So much damage can be done with the turn of a screw.

For every curve there is an opposing straight on the human body.

I’ve seen the power of courage.

Death is the resolution to life.

I COLLECT SHAPES they give me information to recognize an object.  Simple shapes are distillations of objects which become metaphors for the actual objects and can be very descriptive.  I don’t paint things as they are, rather, I paint my perception of how they are. I take shapes out of context.  The outside shape doesn’t have to be related to the inside.

©Joann Mettler 2013



Digital Technology’s Impact on the Arts; New Pew Survey

Pew Research Arts Organization Survey

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released the findings of a report that outlines impact digital technology and social media are having on arts in America. The survey, published this month, provides a picture of a fast-changing landscape, and one that presents many challenges to cash-challenged arts organizations.

More than 1200 arts organizations that received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts between 2006 and 2011 participated in the online survey — including respondents from the fields of visual arts, theater, dance, literature, photography and media arts. Question topics ranged from management of digital marketing outreach to strategies for building community and prompting more audience engagement during performances and at exhibitions.

The survey found that organizations are striving hard to capitalize on opportunities and incorporate new technologies to build new relationships with supporters, their audience and the broader community. But to do that effectively, they find they need skilled staff and dedicated budget for products and services, which makes it difficult at a time of reduced arts funding. It also showed social media is having a major impact on the arts, particularly in how audiences and communities expect to engage with artists and organizations, and that’s prompting a reexamination of the role consumers play both during performances and events, and in having their voices heard throughout the artistic lifecycle.

The Pew Report found “a widespread sense among arts group leaders that digital technologies are critical to the spread of the arts,” with 81% of organizations saying the internet and digital technologies are “very important” for promoting the arts, and nearly as many saying  technologies are “very important” for increasing audience engagement.” Not surprisingly, digital technology was also found to be very important for fundraising, for increasing organizational efficiency, and for engaging in arts advocacy.

Most of the participating organizations strongly or somewhat agree with the statements that technology and social media have made art a more participatory experience (92%), and that they have helped make art audiences more diverse (83%). To accommodate the new realities, organizations are turning to new tools on the internet and in mobile technologies to increase awareness, promote events and exhibits, and provide custom experiences for patrons. But there are costs involved, even when using tools that are free or affordable, with regard to staff and to training. That said, 99% have their own website; 97% have an active social media presence; 50% maintain a blog; and about half that number host podcasts, webinars and provide educational content and materials online.

Looking forward, the report findings suggest, that there is a lot of experimentation going on and that we are likely to find ourselves experiencing the arts in many new and different ways. A copy of the report is available at http://pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2013/PIP_ArtsandTechnology_PDF.pdf.


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Considering a benefit auction to raise money for your art league? Hint: Don’t sell art.

by Sherry Truhlar, President, Red Apple Auctions

13 Artist auction display

You and your colleagues in the art collective want to raise a little money.  Maybe you want to have some cash available to help each other with scholarships to attend art classes.  Maybe you want to upgrade the A/C in your studios.

While you sit around debating how best to raise the money, someone mentions the idea of a benefit auction.  Chances are, you and your friends have been asked to donate to those types of fundraisers before, so it’s only natural that you’d be familiar with them.

“Everyone can donate a piece of their art,” someone suggests, “We’ll sell tickets to the night, and we’ll auction the donations.” In principle, it sounds like a good idea.  After all, you’re an art league and you like art.

But here’s the hard fact:  In many cases, you’ll raise more money if you don’t sell art.

Benefit auctions raise the most money when the items they offer have mass appeal.  You don’t want to sell just anything.  You want to sell items that many people want to own.

Auctions are based on the concept of scarcity.  It’s that old principle of high demand and low supply.  When a benefit auction offers limited, desirable merchandise to many interested buyers, they raise a lot of money.

But sadly, some auction planners begin to think that “more is better.”  They fill their auction tables with anything, thereby creating a garage sale mentality among guests.  Stuff sells cheap.

As an artist, here’s the challenge with making the benefit auction all about art:  Your work (in most cases) doesn’t offer mass appeal that guests are willing to overpay to get. 

What sorts of things are in “high demand” in a benefit auction?  What types of things offer mass appeal?

  • A 5-course meal for six prepared in your home … it could be used for an anniversary dinner, birthday celebration, or a promotion party.
  • A long weekend in a private home on the lake …it can be used for a family retreat, a romantic getaway, or a quiet sanctuary.
  • Two seats to the always sold-out pro-football game … it can be used as a thank-you gift to a star sales representative in my company, a birthday present for my husband, a surprise treat for my son-in-law
  • Unusual, “once in a lifetime” activities (such as serving as Grand Marshal in a parade or taking a helicopter ride over your house) … it can be used as a memorable anniversary gift, a story for my next blog, a check off the bucket list

These are the types of things that many people enjoy doing or would like to do.  Each item is attractive to multiple people for multiple reasons.

In contrast, your mixed media piece “Shark Study I” doesn’t offer that same broad appeal.

So what should the art collective do?  How can you raise the funds for that new A/C unit?

Go ahead, plan a benefit auction.  And do what others do — seek donations like those listed above for your live auction.  To raise big money, stick with “known quantities.”

And when it comes to including your art in the event, sell it in a different way.  For instance, set up a bucket raffle whereby guests can buy multiple tickets and drop their ticket/s into the bucket of the art piece they like most.  Should they be the lucky winner drawn from the bucket, they would be able to take home the art for the price of their raffle tickets.

Remember: Offering items with mass appeal will raise you more money for less work.  Unless your artwork has mass appeal – and most art doesn’t – it won’t generate the returns you were hoping to achieve.

To learn more about benefit auctions and charity auctioneer Sherry Truhlar, visit www.RedAppleAuctions.com. The site includes her forward-thinking blog, free teleclasses, and a complementary download of her annual Auction Item Guide™– that reveals the top 100 items sold in gala auctions last year.

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