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    Bagpiping? Puppet Arts? There’s a Major for That

    Bagpiping? Puppet Arts? There’s a Major for That

    Posted by Sarah Wassner Flynn

    When industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie moved from Scotland to the United States in 1848, he brought along his personal bagpipe player with him. Soon, Carnegie established a bagpipe society and band in his adopted hometown of Pittsburgh, planting the seeds of a rich musical culture in the Pennsylvania city that’s still thriving today.

    So, it’s not much of a surprise that Carnegie’s namesake university — Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon — offers a Bachelor of Performing Arts degree in bagpipe music, the first academic institution in the entire world to do so. The program, offered within the Carnegie Mellon School of Music, focuses on both performance and the history of bagpiping. Major in bagpiping? Why not?

    Today, students across the country can choose from a variety of eclectic arts-focused concentrations at colleges and universities. From puppet arts to historic preservation to sneaker design, the scope of niche arts majors (and minors) at colleges around the U.S. are as broad — and exciting — as they have ever been.

    Take the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), for example. One of the only U.S. schools to offer a comic art major. Students there who hope to pursue a career in this genre (think: cartoonists, manga or graphic-novel authors) learn the nuances of storytelling through a sequential art. New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, also offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts — BFA — in comic arts, and other schools, including Michigan State University, offer a similar program as a minor.

    Maybe museums are more your thing, and you’re keen on learning how to preserve ancient artifacts. That’s a major too. At Salve Regina University (SRU) in Newport, Rhode Island, the Cultural and Historic Preservation program empowers students to “uncover history and help bring it to life every day,” said Christina Berardi, assistant vice president for enrollment management at SRU. By blending elements of architecture, archeology and technology, SRU students pursuing a cultural- and historic-preservation degree participate in projects centered around art and history, like excavating the buried remains of a 150-year-old carriage house on campus and designing, or implementing and designing, a gallery exhibition of objects from the 18th and 19th centuries. “Our students have the opportunity to learn in a hands-on way,” said Berardi.

    At West Virginia University’s puppetry program, students also learn in a hands-on way — or, rather, hand- in. One of just two puppetry B.F.A programs in the U.S., students gain experience in manipulating puppets, as well as designing and creating their own puppets. They also perform as puppet artists as part of a traveling theater troupe, putting on performances like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and “Little Red Riding Hood.”

    If feet are more your thing than hands, you can step into a sneaker-design program. Georgia’s Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) not only offers a sneaker-design minor, but the world’s first Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees in sneaker design. Classes in the program are primed to help students develop knowledge and design skills in conceptualizing, sketching and branding both luxury and high-performance shoes. SCAD alumni have landed jobs with brands including Nike, Adidas, Reebok and New Balance. “Do you want to have a career designing “kicks”? You got it,” Paula Wallace, president and founder of SCAD has said about the program.

    Classes within more traditional arts majors are diversifying, too. Josselyn Lee, a sophomore at SCAD majoring in acting, with a film and casting minor, said she knew she’d get an excellent education — and exposure — when she enrolled with dreams of becoming a professional actress. What she wasn’t aware of at the time was the unique scope of classes she could choose from, be it commercial acting or improv. “Because of how intricate the classes are, it makes me that much more excited to experience them in order to be the best creative I can be,” said Lee. “With the amount of opportunities and resources they provide at SCAD, the sky’s the limit.”

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    Sarah Wassner Flynn