Oft-overlooked ProArts program offers courses and connections

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • October 8, 2014

At Emerson, many students have probably heard “ProArts” in passing, though not everyone knows exactly what it is. The term refers to the ProArts Consortium program, a partnership that links Boston art schools through classes and educational resources.

Ross Bresler, the ProArts executive director, said the program is a great resource for students.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to expand your vision as an artist, as a person, as a creator,” said Bresler.

But although the program has a prominent place at other local consortium campuses, it hasn’t received the same attention at Emerson—and students who have used ProArts services said this diminishes its effectiveness here.

In February, Emerson’s Office of Institutional Research asked students to complete a short survey gauging their knowledge and experience with ProArts. Among the 873 respondents, 52 percent said they had heard of the program, while 40 percent reported they had not. And only 9 percent of the students reported they had taken a class through the program.

The idea for ProArts was conceived 34 years ago as a collaborative effort among presidents from different Boston colleges, according to its website. Emerson was not part of the original group, but today, the program is comprised of the college and five other schools: Berklee College of Music, the Boston Architectural College, The Boston Conservatory, Massachusetts College of Art, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.

The partnership allows students to cross-register for courses among these colleges. The program also offers a website for participating institutions, ProArts Connect, where students can collaborate, share events, network with alumni, and even post for sale and apartment listings. It currently has over 12,500 users between students, staff, and alumni, according to the site.

Emerson students who do know about the ProArts program agree that it is a worthwhile resource. Jingxia Wei, a graduate student, said she uses the website to get information about the arts scene at other schools and to talk to other students with the same artistic interests as her. For example, she said she found out about a new exhibit of Greek art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.

The marketing communications student also said she appreciates the connections she has been able to build through the online forum.

“It forms an artistic community for students who love the arts,” said Wei. “[It can help] them exchange ideas about specific art-related topics.”

Chloe Villanueva, a senior visual and media arts major, has also been using the website to connect with students from other institutions. Villanueva said she has used it to connect with musicians at Berklee to make music videos for her club, Beat Dynamics.

“[I’ve used the site for] spreading the word about a shoot, music submissions, and housing,” said Villanueva.

The downside of the website, Wei said, is that it is not advertised well, so many students haven’t heard of it. Emerson’s website provides minimal information on the program in comparison to other schools in the consortium: Both Berklee and MassArt have more in-depth descriptions in a prominent position on their sites, linking to where students can find out more information and register.

Wei said she wishes Emerson had notifications and alerts of the events happening at the different schools. And Villanueva said she thinks the website would be more successful with a different layout.

“There are also so many people going through ProArts that it’s difficult not to be lost in the noise,” Villanueva said. “If an individual student wishes to use ProArts to get word about a personal project across, there is nothing available to make them stand out.”

Students can sign up for the ProArts Connect website at any time, but can only sign up for ProArts courses at other institutions during their schools’ registration periods.

Villanueva said she thinks every student should take advantage of the program.

“Many people are not aware of the opportunities available to them through ProArts,” she said. “I think that features such as cross-registration amongst various schools [are] an extremely valuable asset for students.”