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Fiber arts program launched to train Upstate designers

From The Greenville News Article by Nathaniel Cary, photo by Bart Boatwright

Textile executives from multiple Upstate companies banded together to fund a new program they hope will train a new generation of homegrown textile designers to carry on the textile heritage of the Carolinas. Many of those designers may come right from Greenville, trained at a new first-in-the-nation program run by the Greenville Fine Arts Center. Greenville County Schools officially launched the program Wednesday. The inaugural group of 24 students, who each auditioned for entrance into the program, will take a course-load built around design and use of fibers in the textile industry. Roy Fluhrer, Fine Arts Center director, conceived of the program years ago and approached business leaders three years ago with a plan for a program similar to an architectural design program that the center had started. Fluhrer called it a way to give the county’s bright artistic students creative futures built in South Carolina. The program drew interest from local companies who wanted to train and retain talented designers in the Upstate. Five companies each contributed $25,000 while Greenville County Schools agreed to fund the salary for a teacher and paid for renovations for two portable buildings that now sit adjacent to the Fine Arts Center on Pine Knoll Drive in Greenville. Sage Automotive Interiors in Greenville, Glen Raven Custom Fabrics in Anderson, Springs Creative in Rock Hill, Alice Manufacturing in Easley and Inman Mills helped purchase equipment for the program, Fluhrer said. A fiber arts program in Greenville made sense for local businesses to support, Randy Blackston, vice president of operations at Glen Raven, said. “There are billions of dollars of capital investment in the textile industry within 30 minutes of this school,” Blackston said. "More importantly, there are thousands and thousands of workers who work in the textile industry within 30 minutes of this school." The textile industry is beset by the preconceived notion that it’s a “dirty industry” whose reputation has been tainted by the number of jobs that have disappeared overseas, Dirk Pieper, president and CEO of Sage Automotive Interiors, said. “The arts and design are a very important part of our business so the opportunity to connect with students of the high school age and get them involved early in our industry of textiles and automotive textiles is a fantastic opportunity to develop homegrown talent here to support our business,” Pieper said. They’re working to change the perception of textiles, which is now high-tech, use new fabrics and design methods and are going to be a $56 billion industry employing more than 500,000 people in the United States, Pieper said. “It’s thriving and of course it’s significant in South Carolina and in particular, the Upstate,” he said. The industry in the Upstate is facing what leaders are calling a “silver tsunami” of retiring baby boomers and will need a new generation of skilled employees to fill their jobs. “Workforce development is the single most important issue in terms of supporting the manufacturing industry,” he said. As the manufacturing industry rebounded post-recession and the state’s leadership attracted new jobs, “It’s our role now to create the associates that are going to be able to work in these operations,” Pieper said. Fiber arts students will learn to weave, knit and construct cloth. They will dye fabric, shape fabric, cut fabric into conceptual art forms or works of art, April Dauscha, fiber arts instructor, said. Inside the remodeled portables, an open concept design splits the rooms into learning zones. A small classroom space with mannequins sits near the entrance with four computers connected to a photo printer. Tables with scraps of fabric, yarn and other materials and a large design table as well as a small kitchenette and laundry area complete the space. Students will spend two hours each day in the studio learning from a curriculum designed with help from professors at N.C. State University, one of the nation’s leading textile programs. The curriculum was built so students who complete the fiber arts program will have college credit that will either offset the amount of time it will take to complete the N.C. State bachelor of science degree or will allow students to study abroad or accept internships to gain added experience during their college years, Nancy Powell, professor in the College of Textiles, said. The fiber arts program moves the school district closer to its goal of graduating students who are college or career ready, Superintendent Burke Royster said. Companies involved in the program will interact with the students regularly, will facilitate visits to textile manufacturers and will offer internships, Pieper said. Image: Greenville Fine Arts Center fiber art student Eileen Selby, left, talks with Greenville School Board member Kenneth Baxter Sr. during a tour of the school's new one-of-a-kind industry-sponsored fiber arts program.

The arts: the private sector’s secret weapon

In a recent Huffington Post blog post, Americans for the Arts CEO Robert Lynch weighed in on why companies seeking new ways to build their competitive advantage are increasingly finding that the arts are the key to driving true innovation and ultimately reaching business goals.

The Conference Board recently released their 2013 CEO Challenge Report, which outlined the top five global challenges for CEOs:
    1. Human Capital
    2. Operational Excellence
    3. Innovation
    4. Customer Relationships, and
    5. Global Political Economic Risk.
As a CEO, these challenges obviously resonated with me. But they also struck a chord with the arts advocate in me. I know that the arts industry can feel very foreign to the business community. But as companies seek new ways to build their competitive advantage, they are increasingly finding that the arts are the key to driving true innovation, ultimately reaching their business goals. So in fact, the arts can play a tremendously important role in helping CEOs address each of the challenges outlined in the CEO Challenge Report. Human Capital The way we do business is rapidly changing every day. With the advent of new technologies and younger generations' tendency to be more on the move in their professional lives, the squeeze is on from all sides to actively engage and retain top talent. Here, the arts can be a secret weapon. In my conversations with business executives across the country they have told me that the arts are an effective tool. Further, the arts play a significant role in attracting and retaining a skilled and educated workforce by ensuring that employees have a vibrant life outside the office. In fact, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas recently conceded that Dallas lost its bid for relocation of the Boeing Headquarters to Chicago because it could not compete culturally--a high priority for Boeing in attracting executives and their families. At the end of the day, if we want the best employees, we have to provide them with the best opportunities to become artistically and culturally involved in and out of the office. Operational Excellence The ability to work across boundaries is an enormously significant skill that will allow organizations and businesses to better operate in an increasingly interconnected world. By embracing the arts, businesses can produce exciting new methods of achieving goals institutionally and affect the output of work in a positive, growth-oriented manner. According to Americans for the Arts' BCA National Survey of Business Support for the Arts, business leaders believe that the arts promote team-building and better collaboration across departments and disciplines, teach different ways of seeing the same issue, and allow for new kinds of strategies to be embraced. Innovation Innovation and creativity are among the top five applied skills sought by business leaders according to Americans for the Arts' and The Conference Board's "Ready to Innovate" report. Likewise, IBM's Global Leadership Survey also says that creativity is the number one quality of successful leaders. So how can we best develop creativity in our workforce? According to "Ready to Innovate," study of the arts is at the top of the list for both business leaders and school superintendents. Innovation, creativity, business--all require a level of fearlessness and a desire to push beyond the walls. And the arts can be a powerful tool for acquiring the confidence, skills, and mindset to transform seemingly impossible ideas into reality. Customer Relationships Engaged, creative employees who are encouraged to think in new, innovative ways are likely to be both productive and actively improve both the company and their own business skills. Business leaders have told me they have seen the arts help facilitate their employee's engagement and fuel their creative juices. It is not just an indirect result, either: the arts build empathy, observation, and problem-identification and problem-solving skills, which translates to better customer service and a deeper understanding of the constituency. Global Political Economic Risk Cultural diplomacy is increasingly being used as a strategy to promote mutual understanding across cultures. On a practical level, arts exchanges build markets and strengthen economic relationships between cultures through sharing of artistic goods--something that is beneficial both financially and culturally. The arts also help us to grasp cultural realities in places where language, religion, politics--and, perhaps more apropos, business practices--may be completely unfamiliar. Many companies have already recognized the value the arts can bring to their bottom line and started strategic partnerships with the arts. And according to Americans for the Arts' BCA Survey, more are cluing in to the valuable contribution a strong arts partnership brings to their sector. Still, there is a strong need to make the case for how partnering with the arts can benefit the business sector. The survey shows that 73 percent of companies that actually support the arts consider them to be a moderate to low priority. To ensure more businesses understand the value of partnering with the arts, Americans for the Arts launched the pARTnership Movement in January 2012. The arts are connectors. They help us connect to our own potential by igniting a creative, bold, and innovative mindset. They help us connect to others by encouraging engagement, empathy, and the understanding that there are many ways of seeing the same thing. The arts connect people to the communities in which they live, the businesses at which they work, and the people with whom they interact. Without the arts, these five issues are challenges, indeed. But with the arts, I believe we can make a difference in our businesses and in our lives.
Via: The Huffington Post