Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

College Looks to Implement BA/BFA Program in Integrated Arts, 5th Year in Cleveland

Photo courtesy of Park Synagogue
The Mendelsohn Synagogue site is in Cleveland Heights.

As a liberal arts college, Oberlin represents students with a diverse array of interests. To reflect this variety in passion, Professor of Studio Art Julia Christensen held an info session on a potential new five-year BA/BFA program that the College is looking to implement. The BA/BFA program would allow students to complete a BA in any field they are driven towards; there is no commitment to focus on the practicing arts throughout all five years of the program. In order to introduce and integrate the practicing arts into the first four years, students would take a course in Oberlin’s departments of Dance, Studio Art, Theater, Creative Writing, Cinema Studies, or in the Conservatory each semester that they are completing their BA. Immersed in a mosaic of fields, students would create an interdisciplinary portfolio during their time in Oberlin.

“Faculty from the Practicing Arts in the College — Theater, Dance, Studio Art, Cinema Studies, and Creative Writing —  have been in conversation about a fifth year double-degree program since around 2020,” Christensen wrote in an email to the Review. “In the spring of 2023, the conversation really began to gain momentum. I have been spearheading the initiative, but there is full collaboration and participation from [other] departments.”

 During each semester of the first four years, students would take a practicing arts class while completing a BA in any field they choose. The fifth year would diverge from tradition —- in terms of environment, opportunities, and focus, and allow graduates to earn a dual BA/BFA degree. As the program is currently exploring living on the Park Arts campus in Cleveland, students would access connections unique to the program including mentorships, internships, and an abundance of resources for their craft.

“We are eager to plug our students into that landscape as a practical bridge out of Oberlin into the world, with hands-on experience in the arts,” Christensen wrote.

After exposure to the practicing arts during their four years in Oberlin, students would propose a project that they would complete throughout an intensive arts year in Cleveland. With the possibility of being located in the Park Arts campus in the historic Mendelsohn Synagogue site in Cleveland Heights, students would experience a change of scenery from small town Oberlin. Over the course of their fifth year, students would have the opportunity to be mentored by internationally recognized artists, filmmakers, performers, and writers. By the end of the year, they would have earned enough credits to graduate with both the BA and BFA.

“There is the focused time to pursue and realize a creative vision, to share work that expands upon and extends into new areas beyond what students have learned during their four years at Oberlin,” Chanda Feldman, associate professor and department chair of Creative Writing, wrote in an email to the Review. “All around it’s an exceptional launching point for creative pursuits and careers.”

Surrounded by a vibrant arts-focused community, students would collaborate with each other in an interdisciplinary cohort, working towards a variety of careers. Choices in professional disciplines range from writers to dancers to muralists to any other practice students may discover and cultivate throughout their time in the five-year program. To fully immerse themselves in their craft, students would live in an Oberlin-specific apartment complex on the Cleveland campus, with access to resources such as an on-site studio. These studios would support and reflect diverse passions — theaters for actors to rehearse and perform in, digital media studios and movie screens for filmmakers to craft and premiere their projects, and studios for artists practicing the fine arts to produce their works from start to finish. 

For students who wish to continue their connection with Oberlin resources and community during their year in Cleveland, a shuttle would provide transportation between Oberlin and the Park campus.

The BA/BFA program places an emphasis on a community-based, public-facing path. This means exploring the wide range of opportunities, internships, and jobs across Cleveland in internationally renowned organizations.

“For Theater students, that might be an internship at one of the many excellent theaters in the region,” Matthew Wright, professor and chair of Theater, wrote in an email to the Review. “Our faculty is well connected to the professional theater in Cleveland, and we’re certain that those close relationships will yield multiple opportunities for students working and living in the BFA community.”

As the one-of-a-kind BA/BFA program is still in the exploratory stage, the faculty of Oberlin involved in this project are on the lookout for student momentum.

“Once we’ve gained enough feedback and validated student interest, we would present the curriculum,” Christensen wrote. “The faculty from across the College practicing arts are super excited about the curricular possibilities here, and we have a pretty good feeling that students will be too.”

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