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A Circle of Support: Supporting Organizations that Support Students

Posted August 1, 2016 in StudentPublic

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Portfolio magazine. Read the complete issue here

At KCAD, facilitating student success is a collaborative endeavor. By supporting local organizations that in turn create value for students, the college expands its educational experience beyond the classroom and into the world at large, where invaluable opportunities for growth await. 

Since merging in 2013, KCAD and Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) have worked collaboratively to provide opportunities for KCAD students both in and outside the classroom. All students enjoy UICA membership benefits, including free admission to exhibitions, invitations to member-only events, and discounted film and event tickets. Now, more students are not only attending UICA events but are using its spaces for critiques and class projects as well.

Performance at UICA during ArtPrize 2015A performance at UICA during ArtPrize 2015.

There’s also the Fresh Pick Award, given annually to an exceptional member of KCAD’s graduating class. Winners receive a solo exhibition at UICA along with professional guidance that touches on everything from soliciting galleries to transporting work to navigating insurance costs. They’re even encouraged to turn to UICA for advice down the road.

“More than recognition, we’re providing a support system to ensure that winners get more exhibition opportunities in the future,” says UICA Executive Director Miranda Krajniak.

Design West Michigan (DWM) is another KCAD-affiliated organization that’s driving student success with its strong relationships throughout the local, national, and international design and business communities.

Students frequently join professionals on DWM-sponsored excursions that take them off campus and inside the facilities and processes of regional companies like Steelcase, Newell Rubbermaid, and Landscape Forms. According to DWM Executive Director Ken Krayer, “We’re a bridge between academics and the professional world. These companies have a wealth of resources that our students can leverage, and DWM opens up access to people and places students wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Design West Michigan trip to Newell RubbermaidKCAD students networking during a visit to Newell Rubbermaid's headquarters. 

DWM also brings internationally recognized design professionals to KCAD, like Thomas Overthun and Elger Oberwelz, both design directors at IDEO, and Andrew Blauvelt, Director of the Cranbrook Art Museum. Attending these events and soaking up knowledge from visiting professionals, while networking with others from around the region, is a game-changer for students.

IDEO Design Director Elger Oberwelz speaking at KCADIDEO Design Director Elger Oberwelz speaking at KCAD.

“When you can set the table for students to further themselves professionally outside the classroom, you’re positioning them to succeed well after they graduate,” says Krayer. 

KCAD also is a sponsor of Avenue for the Arts, a program of Dwelling Place, which focuses on the South Division commercial corridor in Grand Rapids. The numerous galleries in the Avenue for the Arts neighborhood offer students opportunities to showcase their work, while community events drive traffic to exhibitions and provide a forum for students to connect with other members of the local creative community.

“The Avenue is a natural stepping stone for students to test their skills, get their feet wet professionally, grow relationships, and strengthen their networking skills,” says Avenue for the Arts Coordinator Jenn Schaub.

Dwelling Place also supports the professional development of students and alumni through Avenue initiatives like the Learning Lab internship program, which helps students gain valuable experience in areas like marketing and event planning, and the Break It Down workshop series, which immerses students in a wide range of discussions on how to succeed as a contemporary professional artist.

“In my experience, students who start participating in the local creative community while they’re still in school grow better networking opportunities and find better employment opportunities postgraduation,” says Schaub. “That doesn’t come from sitting in your studio all the time.”

From these organizations to others like AIGA Grand Rapids, AAF West Michigan, IxDA Grand Rapids, and IIDA Grand Rapids, there’s no shortage of collaborators in West Michigan eager to help the next generation of creatives find their way.

“Just because one is a student does not mean one is not a part of the fabric of the creative community,” Krajniak says. “KCAD students are contributing really ambitious, amazing things to that community, and it’s the responsibility of creative nonprofits to support them.”