Arts educator to get state award

Susan Cole helped launch the Missouri Fine Arts Academy.
Wednesday, February 9, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:21 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Susan Cole, coordinator of state programs at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Springfield, remembers her grade school art classes in Cape Girardeau as consisting of once-a-week music classes where the teacher came to the classroom with a cart. Integration of the arts into science, math, English and social studies was nonexistent. Cole made integration her goal.

“I think it is critical that when boys and girls of any social status are in school they experience something beautiful every day,” Cole said.

She thinks that integrating art into the basic subjects will ensure that children get a well-rounded education.

In order to see this happen, Cole helped establish the Missouri Fine Arts Academy, a weeklong summer program at Southwest Missouri State University that encourages talented students to explore all areas of art.

The academy and Cole’s role at the Education Department have led to her being awarded the 2005 Missouri Arts Award for Arts Education. Gov. Matt Blunt and first lady Melanie Blunt will present the 2005 Missouri Arts Awards at 2 p.m. today in Jefferson City.

“It’s important that people understand that I am representing a much larger effort by many people,” Cole said. “I feel humble. My name is attached and recognized because I am at the state level. The more important work is done by the people in the trenches who are teaching every day.”

Cole’s goal is to be certain that the experience students have is a unique one.

“We want to make them understand the relationship between their art form and others and education in general,” Cole said.

The academy does this by requiring the students to take art classes that they do not typically take during the school year. Talented singers spend time acting, and dancers play music.

Cole said her interest in education came naturally because both her mother and father were teachers.

“When I wasn’t attending school, I was in school with my mother,” she said.

Cole started working at the Education Department in 1986. Earlier, Cole taught speech, English and English as a Second Language in public schools and at Southeast Missouri State University.

“I wanted to pursue an advanced degree after my master’s, so I applied for a job at the Education Department in order to be close to the UMC campus,” Cole said.

Cole lived in Columbia and attended MU from 1986 to 1990.

The Missouri Fine Arts Academy works to spread its teaching methods to other schools by posting its curriculum, approach and philosophy on its Web site,

“It is important to me that teachers understand how to integrate the arts, mostly because it’s just not appropriate to leave them out,” Cole said. “A complete education means showing the relationship between the arts and the core classes.”

According to Cole, there are only six programs like the Missouri Fine Arts Academy throughout the nation. The academy began in 1995. This will be its 10th year. Cole felt lucky that the program has been able to keep its funding during hard times.

The program is funded by the state, and because of that the academy has encouraged its students to thank the senators and legislatures that help keep it going by sending cards and showing their art.

It only took six months to get the academy running, and Cole helped by distributing information at colleges, selecting a statewide committee to review applications, making site visits and eventually choosing SMSU and becoming acquainted with it. She also serves as a liaison between the Education Department and the academy.

Cole is happy to be able to interact with the students at the academy during the summer because not everyone at the department gets to do so.

The students that attend the academy are nominated by their school district or private school. All schools in Missouri are allowed at least one nomination. A panel put together by the state agency evaluates the applications and decides who gets accepted.

The Missouri Arts Awards have been put on by the Missouri Arts Council since 1983.

Every year a committee reviews nominations and decides who has contributed the most to the artistic and cultural climate of Missouri.

Carolyn Gerdes was this year’s chair of the committee. She said the committee looks for people who are exemplary in their field and whose influence is statewide.

“There were many applicants in the arts education division that did great things on a regional or local level, but Susan Cole’s work with the Missouri Fine Arts Academy has been very beneficial to students throughout the state,” Gerdes said.

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