Campus Spotlight: Florida School of the Arts


Editor’s note: Florida’s colleges and universities offer a diverse array of high-value, high-quality educational opportunities, including some you may never have heard about. We will shine a light on these in our occasional “Campus Spotlight” series.

At Florida School of the Arts, nurturing student creativity is never a bother or half-hearted afterthought.

It’s the mission.

This two-year college, located in the sleepy Northeast city of Palatka, not only encourages but expects its students to embrace the vivid, bold and passionate facets of their personalities. With a firm belief that creativity is a student’s best defense against obsolescence in an increasingly automated world, FloArts welcomes it all—talent and diligence, focus and flair, audacity and imagination.

“It’s really about building students’ skills and portfolios to a point where the next step is not a problem for them—whatever that is,” said Dean Alain Hentschel, a former director of Parsons School of Design in Paris. “They could enter the workforce. They could transfer to a four-year degree. We have seen all kinds of scenarios.”

Tucked into the Palatka campus of St. Johns River State College, FloArts features a highly credentialed faculty and offers associate arts and science degrees in a variety of visual and performing arts.

FloArts’ alums include Daniel Franzese, who appeared in the 2004 hit movie “Mean Girls,” and Bert V. Royal, who wrote the screenplay for “Easy A,” a 2010 comedy starring Emma Stone.

 

The Visual Arts program, which is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, is composed of:

  • Studio Art
  • Photography
  • Animation
  • Graphic Design/New Media Design

The Performing Arts programs are:

  • Acting
  • Dance Studies and Dance Performance
  • Musical Theater
  • Scenic/Lighting Design and Technology
  • Costume Design and Technology
  • Stage Management
  • Stage Technology.

 

Drawing students from across Florida, the nation and as far away as Brazil, FloArts also has a selective audition-based admission process. Once students are in, they are granted a unique access to the stage—whether performing in the spotlight or working behind the scenes—that isn’t typical at a four-year university, Hentschel said.

“FloArts offers students hands-on experience from the get-go, which is really a positive thing for students,” he added. “They get to audition for productions as soon as they get accepted, so we have freshmen in our productions if they have what it takes to earn that spot.”

Each year, FloArts stages numerous shows—plays, musicals and dance performances—along with multiple studio art exhibitions. Among this year’s selections are “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” and “9 to 5: The Musical.”

On the small side with roughly 80 students currently enrolled—and a capacity for 175—FloArts is slowly rebounding from the pandemic slowdown. Yet for many students such as Corey McKinney, who studies acting at FloArts, the higher faculty-to-student ratio was a selling point.

“I was looking specifically for one-on-one attention, and that instantly hooked me,” said McKinney, who’s from Jacksonville. “Every day I come to class knowing I will get that. You really get that extra push and guidance from the professors.”

And the FloArts campus’ rural location comes in handy when students need to buckle down on assignments.

He also praised the collaborative vibe at FloArts, pointing to his involvement in an annual film festival. In Spring 2022, McKinney and two other students were tasked with writing, filming and editing a movie in 48 hours.

“We got it done, and we actually ended up winning it!” he recalled. “It was just a big teaching and learning moment for me.”

Hentschel credits those kinds of experiences with cementing the close-knit and supportive culture at FloArts, where one of the top priorities is teaching students to understand and accept critiques of their craft.

“This is not high school anymore,” he added. “This is professional training, and we all know the professional world is very tough.”

That school-wide commitment to professional growth also benefits students in forming lasting friendships with their peers and instructors and instilling confidence as they face their next chapter. Many students return after graduating to conduct workshops or simply talk to students and catch up with faculty.

“I have never seen a two-year school have such a loyal following of alumni as this school,” Hentschel said. “Even if they go on to a four-year school and get their BFA or MFA, they really recognize what they got here. It’s been great to see.”

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