Story Education

Unique Experiences at CSU Summer Arts Prepare Students for the Real World

Christianne Salvador


​Student showcase of Urban Bush Women Dance at the 2017 CSU Summer Arts Festival (photo courtesy of  Todd Sharp)


​​​​Since 1985, CSU Summer Arts has been nurturing the artistic talents of students from across the university. For up to four weeks during the summer, students reside on campus as they work side-by-side with world-renowned master teachers in music, theatre, dance, media, creative writing, visual art and design.

The immersive and highly collaborative program leaves students with a transformative educational experience as they perfect their craft. At the end of the course, the local community is invited to an arts festival where Summer Arts students proudly showcase their artistic talents.

This year's program - the 32nd annual CSU Summer Arts - closed with a bang on July 22 as hundreds of students, parents and local community citizens came out to the celebrate the two-day finale at Fresno State.

2017 marked the return of Summer Arts to Fresno after a four-year residency at CSU Monterey Bay and the campus will host the program until 2021.

Blending Art with Other Disciplines

The overarching concept in this year's program was the inclusion of other disciplines in creating art.

In a one-of-a-kind course, Video Projection Mapping in 3D Space, art and science were fused together for a large-scale art installation that depicted students' idea of what life might be like on Jupiter's moon. Working alongside Belgian artist Yannick Jacquet and microbiologist Dr. Elizabeth Skovran, students researched bioluminescent organisms, such as jellyfish and fireflies.

Using electron microscopes, students studied and learned about the biology of the creatures and proposed scientific inquiries to Dr. Skovran. They then applied what they learned to develop ideas for their art installation.

"This course gave students a shift in perspective; they learned a different way of looking at the world and their surroundings," said G. Craig Hobbs, an interdisciplinary professor at San José State and the coordinator of the course. "We went way beyond art - students learned the value of aesthetics in the biological world while applying science, geometry and math to creating their art."

In a separate course, Visual Storytelling: The Art & Craft of the Graphic Novel, coordinator Mario Estioko brought in animation heavyweights Andy Cung from Cartoon Network and Vinton Heuck from Warner Bros. to give students a lesson on combining narrative writing with art. Each student came into the course as experienced artists, ranging from intermediate to advanced in their level of drawing. The course expanded their talents by sharpening their creative writing abilities. The curriculum guided the students in the development of storytelling by associating words with images.

"Students were already talented in creating pretty pictures, but now they can effectively tell a story," said Estioko. "This course enabled them to bring their art to a new level by doing a narrative rather than just a stand-alone piece.

"A course like this falls in the seams of academia. There are degrees offered in illustration, art and animation, but this falls in the middle between creative writing and art. This is not a conventional course, but it definitely serves a need within a niche by combining writing and organization skills with artistic talent."

Preparing Artists for the Real World

For many students, Summer Arts not only nurtures their creativity, but the program also provides them with the fundamentals of workforce preparation.

At the end of the Visual Storytelling: The Art & Craft of the Graphic Novel course, students take home their creation: a high-quality, two-page storyboard spread with a full-color cover ready to pitch to a graphic novel publisher.

"Everything they've created during this course can serve as a pitch when they go out looking for jobs," said Estioko. "They can take what they have here – the artwork, the character descriptions, the plot – and they can bring it to a publisher. This can be their portfolio."

Film student Phoebe Williams developed a work sample for a new career path that piqued her interest during her time at Summer Arts. The San Diego State student participated in two courses, Cinematography Expanded in the New Age and Sexuality and Love in Creative Writing, which have inspired her to become a writer for television and film.

"The classes I took at Summer Arts definitely helped sharpen me to become the professional I want to be after college," said Williams.

"The cinematography course was my first hands-on film class. I got to work with top-of-the-line cameras and with (Star Wars cinematographer) Bruce Logan and full on-stage production. It was such a valuable experience for me.

"The writing class triggered a new way of thought processing. It expanded my perspective and helped me project my voice as a writer. The invaluable feedback I received from my diverse group of Summer Arts peers has given me the confidence that I can pursue a career in writing. I will be using what I wrote in the course as a writing sample."

Along with professional-grade work samples, students leave Summer Arts with a heightened sense of self and more defined career goals. Since the course offerings at Summer Arts combine various academic disciplines with art, students are exposed to other job industries that are not necessarily aligned with their practice. They gain an understanding of how art plays a role in other disciplines and how their artistic talent can be invaluable in the workplace.

"The future is based on breaking down the barriers between academic disciplines," said Hobbs. "Great developments in science have been contributed by people who were knowledgeable in many disciplines. Leonardo DaVinci is considered both an artist and an engineer in his time, and still today we benefit from the results of that. In the new renaissance, combining art, science and technology will solve the earth's biggest problems.

"We have a lot to learn from each other. As artists, we can't lose our identity by working with others. We just change our perspectives and find inspiration from the world in new and different ways."

For more information on CSU Summer Arts, visit​​​