Guest Blogger: Laura
L. Watts, Associate Professor of Art History
Five years ago, Daemen College added a B.F.A. program in Animation and a B. S. in Applied Theater to its Department of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA). With the increase of students and the addition of a new type of studio practice, Daemen Faculty in the VPA realized quickly that traditional studio instructional design was missing too many students. In particular, more and more students were coming to us with high functioning autism (ASD), and although their talent, drive and focus were exceptional, studio practice was frequently challenging to both student and instructor.
Isolating the challenges for many ASD students was not the difficulty. Although each student, no matter their background, comes to a studio art program with their own challenges, many ASD students, as well as students dealing with ADHD and GAD, struggle with similar hurdles. For one, a studio environment is often replete with visual and auditory stimuli. Lights, colors, and motion is ubiquitous, and hinders concentration, something absolutely necessary for studio success. In addition, the studio curriculum relies on exploration leading to individual solutions. Accommodating students used to rubrics and scaffolds frustrated the VPA Department the most. Whereas the History and Government Department on our campus can employ many of these practices to reach a more neurodiverse community of students, individual solutions and artistic exploration is the lifeblood of our program.
Through the partnership with the Tower Foundation, the VPA Faculty at Daemen College has begun to explore solutions for these obstacles, without in any way compromising the intellectual rigor of the programs. After two years of the Studio Support Program, the VPA has learned valuable lessons, and enjoyed unexpected success. Studio design, instructional tools for sensory sensitivity, and a pilot program for entering first year students revealed there is a way to open up the studio to neurodiverse students. And, since these adjustments were made available to all students, we have seen benefits to practice across the board, especially in the way we now address creative process before the major studio sequences.
Our experiences have led to the organization of Autism and the Arts: Supporting Students in the Post-Secondary Studio, a one-day conference held on Daemen's Campus with the generous support of the Tower Foundation on March 23rd. Studio and Theater Faculty, and Studio Support Service Professionals from around the region will gather to discuss the particular instructional obstacles and solutions for students with creative goals. Along with panels and presentations, Dani Bowman will address attendees during a morning session. Bowman began her own animation at 14 years old, and now submits films all over the world, all while attending Woodbury University.