Palm Beach Atlantic University has merged its School of Music and Fine Arts and School of Communication and Media to form a new College of the Arts.
The college is headed by Jason Lester, a professional opera singer who formerly was dean of the School of Music and Fine Arts, and in recent months was acting dean for the School of Communication and Media.
The Communication school’s former dean, Duane Meeks, has been named associate provost for strategic innovation to focus on future growth for the West Palm Beach-based private Christian university. That growth will include the expansion of PBA’s online learning programs and development of new initiatives to prepare students for leadership roles.
“The purpose of the merger is to equip the students to achieve their potential through artistic expression, arts advocacy, transformational experiences and above all, storytelling,” says Lester, who believes storytelling is the common thread linking all the disciplines together.
“A tiered system with these options will draw new talent to PBAU, especially to those looking for a highly competitive academic experience,” he said. “A BFA degree sets the foundation for students driven towards success, especially those who desire to continue in their field by acquiring a MFA.”
He says his over-arching goal is to create synergy among the disciplines and reduce redundancy in the two colleges.
“I want to create a team and a culture that is magnetic, in collaboration and in community with our city,” Lester said.
“As cultural archivists we want to equip our artists to exceed their potential,” he says. “The thread that weaves through the tapestry of the College of the Arts is the art of storytelling, whether through movement, music, digital media, cinema, theater, sports broadcasting, journalism, public relations, visual art or gaming.”
Under the realignment, the cinema major, which had previously belonged to the theater department, will now be part of the sports broadcasting and digital media department. Theater will be in the same school as dance, allowing them to maximize resources, which Lester believes makes more sense.
In addition to the outstanding degree programs already in place, the College of the Arts will add four new bachelor of fine arts degrees: cinema, dance, graphic design and theater.
The new degree programs will allow students to choose an option that is more rigorous, requiring additional credit hours and resulting in a more prestigious degree. The college will continue to offer the bachelor of aArts in each of those areas, but the B.A. degrees will be revised.
“These BFA degrees create exciting opportunities for potential students in those disciplines,” says president Debra A. Schwinn, herself a violinist. “And I love the idea of leveraging the arts in the heart of West Palm Beach as the School of Music and Fine Arts and the School of Communication and Media come together.”
“Dr. Lester already has been very effective working out collaborations between PBA performing groups and local organizations such as Palm Beach Opera, Palm Beach Symphony and the Society of the Four Arts.”
Lester believes career opportunities for students in the current job climate are good, citing the U.S. Department of Labor outlook for job growth in areas of cinema, broadcast and digital media, as well as public relations, for which he says his students are in demand.
Graphics students have completed internships for local Palm Beach County organizations such as the Four Arts, the Norton Museum of Art and the Palm Beach Zoo.
Sophomore Candace Smith, 20, is a dance major who is excited to have the option to earn her BFA in dance.
Looking around for colleges, Smith, originally from Tennessee, says she found the faculty and opportunities at PBAU to be “amazing,” as well as its South Florida location.
“It’s more prestigious to earn a BFA,” says Smith, who will graduate in 2024 and hopes to go on to dance professionally and open her own dance studio in the future.
She says the dance program at PBAU has exposed her to new techniques, given her a good background in classical training and offers networking opportunities, which she believes will help her with future job hunting or provide opportunities for collaboration.
“Being exposed to music (as well as dance) majors has exposed me to musical theater courses and the opportunity to network with more people,” she says.
Last year Smith performed a dance piece at the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden in West Palm Beach and with the PBAU Dance Ensemble at a spring show, Redemptive Beauty, at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
This academic year Smith is looking forward to a workshop offered by former Alvin Ailey dancer and choreographer, Christopher Huggins, in which the students will work in conjunction with Huggins to create an original dance work.
“Even though PBAU is a small school, we have so many great opportunities,” says Smith. “Dean Lester is very passionate about his work and all the faculty are approachable and genuinely care about their students.”
“I know I can go to Dean Lester or any of the faculty with my concerns,” Smith says. “They strive to help you. I felt immediately at home when I arrived here and this whole experience is hard to find at just any university.”