Barr Foundation grants $140,000 to ProArts consortium

by Jenn Zarate / Beacon Correspondent • February 27, 2014

The ProArts Consortium received a $140,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to develop its programs with six arts-focused colleges in Boston, including Emerson, according to its executive director, Ross Bresler. 

The Barr Foundation is a Boston-based group that funds nonprofits in areas of education, the environment, and culture and arts, according to its website.

Besides Emerson, the ProArts consortium is also composed of Berklee College of Music, Boston Architectural College, The Boston Conservatory, Massachusetts College of Art, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. 

“The grant is helping to support a top-to-bottom strategic planning exercise throughout all the schools, in order to look at where we are — and in that process, dream about where we could go in the future,” said Bresler, a professor at Berklee.

Bresler said the key goal is introspection: looking at where ProArts is as a foundation, and how member schools interrelate with one another. 

Through the consortium, Emerson students are eligible to take courses at other member schools and to use their facilities. Robin Shahid-Bellot, associate director of Emerson’s Student Service Center, said that to participate, students must complete a cross registration form available on the ProArts page of Emerson’s website and at the registrar’s office. 

In spring of 2013, Emerson sophomore Sandrayati Fay registered for the courses Music Application and Theory, and Vocal Technique and Wellness at Berklee through ProArts. Her experience, Fay said, helped her figure out that she wanted to minor in music.

“Knowing that we have the ProArts program is actually one of the big reasons why I decided to attend Emerson,” said Fay. 

Academically, Fay said, she learned a lot through the program. While the staff was friendly during registration and the professors at Berklee were amazing, she said she thinks more could be done to improve the experience of students enrolled through the consortium. 

“I do wish there was an orientation with other ProArts students to create a more welcoming community in the program,” said Fay, who plans to continue taking courses at Berklee.

Michaele Whelan, Emerson’s chief academic officer, said that for the first time this year, Emerson will host educational exercises with her counterparts from the other five institutions.  

“Special transformational teaching workshops will be held to chart out potential areas to explore to benefit the program,” said Whelan.

While the workshops would have taken place regardless of the grant, more faculty members are attending them, said Whelan.

Aaron Ray, a senior at Berklee majoring in trumpet and voice, said that through the consortium, he took a class at the Boston Conservatory last spring.

"I took a Beginner Jazz Dance class, and I couldn't have had a better time," said Ray.

Venturing the courses offered through the ProArts partnership, Ray said he learned a lot as a dancer, and realized his aspiration is not as far away as he thought it was.

"I still have a long way to go,” said Ray, “but just after one semester alone I feel just that much more confident at dance calls in auditions."

ProArts member institutions, including Emerson, are conducting surveys to gauge student knowledge of the consortium. 

Michael Duggan, Emerson’s associate vice president for institutional research, conducted a short survey at Emerson regarding the ProArts cross-registration program and students’ awareness of it. The results of these surveys are still being analyzed, he said. 

Administrators plan to use the grant to improve not only Emerson students’ educations, said Bresler, but those of students in all six schools of the consortium. 

“These schools are quite the extraordinary collection of creative equity with boundless potential of where you can go,” said Bresler, “and I feel that all of our schools are committed to making the experience in Boston for the creation of art to be as dynamic as possible.”