Master Craftsman Program Provides Real-World Experience


KENNESAW, Ga. (Sep 29, 2017)students work on bench project

The complaint often leveled at academic arts programs is that they are one-dimensional—an ivory tower exposition of theory in the university setting or a crass fixation on commercial viability in for-profit institutions. The criticism, sound or not, depends upon the premise that the work of a professional artist entails a complex set of negotiations between aesthetic and practical concerns, personal expression and social maneuvering. Needless to say, there isn’t a “Client Relations 1101” to be found in the course catalogue. The Master Craftsman program was therefore created to address this challenge, while—as de facto program director Page Burch puts it—“filling any gaps in knowledge that normal university curriculum wouldn’t cover.” By taking on real-life professional projects, the program allows students to gain not only an ability to express their creative vision, but also experience in harnessing that vision for the needs of clients. The goal is for students to emerge as both accomplished artists and polished professionals.

The Master Craftsmen program, which began in January, provides Kennesaw State student artists the opportunity to work with outside clients on custom commissioned projects. This initiative, which Burch describes as being in its “fledgling stage” after two years of planning, has nonetheless already paid dividends: The awards distributed at this year’s Southern Graphics Council International Conference (hosted by KSU), were designed and fabricated by students. Likewise, the city of Kennesaw recently accepted a student proposal for custom sculptural seating in the city’s historic downtown district, most notably outside of City Hall and the Southern Museum. The five benches—designed to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing—will be installed early this summer, constituting the first official completed project of the Master Craftsman program.

While it’s possible to simulate professional working conditions within the classroom via imaginative exercises in project pitching, it’s difficult. Geo Sipp, director of the School of Art and Design and a self-described advocate for the Master Craftsman program, emphasizes that nothing replicates the ever-changing environment of a professional design studio like working with a client from project pitch to final fabrication. Sipp explains that, “the possible range of projects [within this program] are diverse, and each opportunity is therefore unique. There is not apt to be much redundancy in what is done, since each job...will help dictate what a proposal should be.”

Burch agrees, distinguishing between the limitations of static academic course design and the dynamic process of professional work. “Generally speaking, art students are assigned open-ended projects that ask them to problem-solve by finding technical solutions with their own artistic voice. This program will ask them to problem-solve to a client’s specific desires. They might be asked to learn a completely new skillset that would not be taught in their ordinary course of study,” said Sipp.

Ultimately, each faculty member emphasizes, the task variation and professional opportunities are two functions of one of the program’s primary goals: an increased sense of student autonomy. “The thing that excites me the most about this program,” Burch elaborates, “is allowing students to be the driving force behind it. Being able to help artists progress on a professional level is an extremely important step forward...and I find it tremendously exciting.

City of Kennesaw SealThe goal of the recent public art agreement between the city of Kennesaw and KSU’s college of the arts is twofold: allow students to complete real, commissioned work while providing decorative, yet useful artifacts for the city’s public spaces. Page Burch emphasizes the win-win nature of the partnership—which will officially begin with the impending installation of sculptural benches near Kennesaw’s city hall—saying, “we all believe that the benches will complement and enhance their surroundings.” Further collaboration is already being planned in the form of contracted projects that will compliment the continued development of Kennesaw’s historic downtown depot district. Valerie Dibble emphasizes the breadth of partnership opportunities on the horizon: “there are many new projects coming up for the Kennesaw downtown development and the city is excited about making things that are utilitarian very beautiful for the residents, as well as making the city a destination that people will come to and enjoy.”

Keaton Lamle