The Well-Fed Artist: New Fellowship Supports Fine Artists

Jobs are at the center of the country’s economic recovery. It’s about saving the jobs we have and creating more of them. Quickly. At Nebraska Wesleyan, that has always meant fostering students’ professional potential through a broad liberal arts experience.

The word “job” itself conjures certain images. Maybe carpenters or factory workers, businesswomen or teachers come to mind first. Painters, designers and photographers likely come to mind later, if at all. Americans don’t always see the arts as a factor in our economic recovery.

That wasn’t always so. During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed millions of Americans through federal projects across the country. The WPA designated seven percent of its spending on projects employing writers, artists, musicians and actors.

This is about ensuring that serious artists have a real chance to pursue careers in art.

Painters who’d later become household names—like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning—were WPA artists. And Dorothea Lange shot “Migrant Mother,” the iconic photograph of the Great Depression, while working for the federal Resettlement Administration.

Will there be an iconic image of this recovery? What professional artist can capture the age if the age does little to produce professional artists?

In the last decade, more scholars and economists have come to recognize the economic impact of what author Richard Florida has called “the creative class.” The nation’s artists and creative thinkers revitalize neighborhoods and drive innovation.

Today, Nebraska Wesleyan University is poised to do more to help people make that leap from art student to professional artist than it ever has before. Richard Arenz, father of Associate Professor of Biology Cody Arenz, established the Peggy Arenz Art Fellowship, named for his late wife, who was herself an artist and enthusiastic supporter of the arts. The fellowship supports select NWU art students as they pursue professional opportunities in art.

Top graduate art programs are competitive, and even the most talented undergraduates often miss entrance following graduation. The Peggy Arenz Art Fellowship is designed to give promising artists the time in the studio they need to strengthen their portfolios and continue competing for the postgraduate and professional opportunities that lead to careers in art.

Artists must enroll in at least one course to continue using Nebraska Wesleyan’s art studios. The fellowship provides tuition support for new graduates to take that extra course. It also adds to the compensation fellows receive for working in arts-related student positions on campus. By paying these artists more than minimum wage to work on campus, the fellowship prevents them from pursuing those second and third jobs that sap time and energy from their art.

Mary Hawk, NWU’s director of major gifts, said, “Art was an important part of Peggy’s life and Richard and Cody wanted her legacy to make careers in art possible for others. This is about ensuring that serious artists have a real chance to pursue careers in art.”

This fellowship reflects the university’s commitment to the academic and professional success of its students and its belief in the impact of the arts. When we value artists’ work as work, we gain something more than increased employment. We gain a truer sense of ourselves—of what it means to be living, breathing and working Americans.