11/05/2012 10:05 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

'Art for the Public Good' Theme of Fine Art Deans Annual Conference

The International Council of Fine Arts Deans' (ICFAD) meeting in Minneapolis (10.24-10.27) for their annual conference talked about "Art as a Public Good" -- meeting the demands for creativity and innovation, and serving the communities they represent, socially and economically.

Nurturing the talented performer, musician or sculptor is of utmost importance to the fine arts deans and their universities. However, knowing that the arts, broadly defined, are being called on to shape the larger economic discussion -- a national discussion, really -- to change the way the whole country thinks about education, economic prowess in the global economy and preparing our students for the new innovation sector, cries out for their leadership.

Lucinda Lavelli, Dean of University of Florida and incoming President of ICFAD, kicked off the conference by talking about the concept of "the creative campus," now adopted by several universities, "to establish educational settings that infuse the academy with the arts, foster creativity in all disciplines, promote interdisciplinary projects and encourage new ways of solving problems and expressing ideas."

She asked several deans to talk about their university and how their college was collaborating with other colleges in business, engineering or the sciences, but more, she asked perhaps the biggest question of the conference: "What could -- or should -- the deans and their universities be doing" with their students, their alumni living in the area and through the town/gown relationships that exist, and how can others be engaged to help everyone in our community to think differently about the arts?

Quite simply, as Harvey White, co-founder and former president of Qualcomm, has been known to say, this is a "national emergency." The clock is ticking, and when the dust settles after years of budgetary and fiscal malaise, the nation will desperately need young graduates with the new thinking skills for an economy that demands the most creative workforce.

Jobs which once existed in manufacturing-related fields are gone. Jobs that once existed in the service sector -- such as accounting, insurance, telecommunications and the like -- are also being lost. Almost everywhere in the world, almost anyone it seems, can get a computer. And, as author Thomas Friedman said, "The world is flat." Offshoring and outsourcing are permanent and growing features of life and work.

The New York Times reported that when President Obama learned Apple had the Chinese manufacturing and assembling iPhones, he asked Steve Jobs, "Why can't that work come home?" Jobs' answer "was unambiguous. 'Those jobs aren't coming back.'"

Clearly we need to change the curriculum. We need to change the mindset of parents, policymakers, politicians and the larger community too. Becoming a creative and innovative economy cannot happen unless every segment of business and society pulls together. Were all saying we want Innovation, were saying we want creativity too. Unfortunately too few recognize that a lot of creativity, a great deal really, comes for the arts.

Nonetheless, we can make these connections. We can get everyone engaged. It can be done. It must be done.

As The Conference Board, an international non-profit business research organization, reported in "Ready to Innovate", most "U.S. employers rate creativity and innovation among the top five skills that will increase in importance over the next five years, and rank it among the top challenges facing CEOs."

Merging the two cultures of art and science, as writer C.P. Snow put it, is a step in the right direction that can be accomplished with very little new money needed... and today. A new interdisciplinary curriculum that emphasizes the new economy, the role of technology and the spirit of enterprise -- specifically creativity and innovation -- is sorely needed.

The National Science Foundation is already looking at Art Based Learning, and The National Endowment of the Arts is funding proposals that merge the disciplines of art and science. But more in each University can be done to confronting some of "silos" covering postsecondary education in the United States. The Chronicle of Higher Education, and others, have raised the question whether university majors are "silos" inhibiting learning.

We already know that most of majors that exist today are not necessarily job related. More importantly, a degree of any kind is no guarantee of a job. What is important is that young people "learn how to learn" (acquire genuine thinking skills) in college and, if possible, find out what they can be passionate about.

Outside the walls of the University, a major trend is revolving around the idea of "creative placemaking"... using art and cultural districts to change the face of downtowns, creating livable walkable communities with performance spaces, sculptures and murals, all to beautify a city and make it a place creative types are attracted to. Such efforts can be major factors in establishing new mindsets in the community, and establishing creative communities to feed creativity and innovation, and workplaces for the new economy.

Of course a lot can be done to encouraging new thinking about the role of arts: street art, public art and the reshaping the K-12 curriculum as art is central to our democracy, and our civilization: but more, the very survival of our economy.

Fine Arts Deans know, perhaps more than any other group of people that merging art, having more interdisciplinary and project based learning, and ushering in a whole new curriculum is essential... and fostering development of creative communities vital to our future.