Despite frequently falling victim to budget cuts and declining support at the K-12 level, arts education is essential for a well-rounded curriculum, encouraging creativity, self-expression, and confidence.
It’s also a stress reliever: In a study on the impact of visual art creation on healthy adults, researchers found 45 minutes of art-making to significantly lower levels of cortisol — a human stress indicator— regardless of the individual’s artistic talent or experience.
Fortunately, some student unions are bringing the benefits of art directly to students through craft centers and maker spaces. Whether designed as events, courses, or even entrepreneurship opportunities, these resources aim to enrich student life while advocating for the power of art in education.
ACUI member schools are offering a range of artistic opportunities and activities. Tucked into the east basement of Iowa State University’s Memorial Union, for example, is The Workspace, an area dedicated to providing art classes, open studios, and special craft events for the campus community and beyond.
“It’s been in that space since the early 1970s,” Kristine Heflin, associate director of the Memorial Union for Student Engagement, said of The Workspace. “It’s an industrial-looking area you can make a mess in — we’ve made it work for us, but it was not purpose-built for arts and crafts.”
Art classes at The Workspace come in various flavors, from drawing and painting to jewelry, woodshop, and fiber arts. The student union also provides a paint-your-own-pottery studio, collaborations with various campus departments, and programming for student groups like ISU AfterDark, which plans late-night activities each semester. Drop-in crafts change monthly and are often tied to significant awareness events, like Black History Month, National Coming Out Day, the International Day of Peace, and fundraisers.
“We created a fairly robust to-go operation for our drop-in crafts and some of our paint-your-own pottery during COVID,” Heflin said. “Most of our full-time student engagement staff were involved at some point doing deliveries around town! We no longer deliver, but we do still have many of our crafts available as a to-go option, which has continued to be popular for those who are still COVID-wary or don’t have time to stay and craft as well as helping to ease the crowding in our somewhat small space.”
At the University of Florida Reitz Union Arts & Crafts Center, students, faculty, staff, and the greater Gainesville community enjoy opportunities for relaxation, creative expression, community building, and personal growth.
“The Reitz Union Arts & Crafts Center is a unique space on campus where makers come together in a fun and welcoming environment,” said Mariana Baquero, arts specialist at the center. “Located on the Lower Level of the J. Wayne Reitz Union, it features one large multipurpose studio, a ceramic studio with pottery wheels, a glaze room, a kiln room, three staff offices, and a retail shop.”
The Reitz Union also offers access to a paint-a-pot studio where students can decorate various unglazed pottery pieces.
The Craft Center at The University of Oregon’s Erb Memorial Union (EMU), on the other hand, breaks its studio spaces into nine areas: a complete darkroom and processing area, a small metals and jewelry studio, a fibers studio, a painting and drawing studio, a printmaking studio, a bench room and full woodshop, a glass studio, and a ceramics studio.
“We offer many workshops and events,” said Jennifer Salzman, Program Director for the EMU Craft Center. “Students can sign up to attend classes and workshops or work independently in the studios on their own projects. We also host visiting artist workshops and intensives that bring unique artists in to share creative techniques.”
Baquero said UF offers students free crafting events throughout the year. “At the beginning of each semester, we host several welcome-back crafts that introduce students to the Arts & Crafts Center,” she said. “During the semester, we host our Crafty Gator series — free, two-hour workshops where students can participate in various activities such as hand-building with clay, painting, macrame, sewing, and more.”
Other free events include Play with Clay, in which community members learn to work on table-top pottery wheels outside the Reitz Union. On Mending Mondays, students learn decorative mending techniques, and on Learn to Sew Fridays, they’re taught their way around a sewing machine.
“On Wednesday afternoons, we host a free walk-up craft for students as part of our Wellness Wednesday series, where students can pick up wellness tips and information about on-campus wellness resources,” Baquero added.
The Craft Center at The University of Oregon’s EMU offers free access to all nine studio spaces, plus free orientations to ensure safety. “We also offer weekly open sessions called Freebie Fridays where students can stop in and spend a couple of hours creating and working with instructors and materials we have out and available,” Salzman said.
The Reitz Union’s fee-based programs include studio memberships for individuals with proficiency in ceramics or jewelry-making who wish to use the union’s facilities for independent work. Studio members can further develop their skills at a variety of workshops led by an arts specialist.
“We also allow groups to reserve our Paint-a-Pot area for socials or team-building events,” Baquero said. “Customers can also purchase clay and supplies for jewelry making, canvas painting, and button/magnet making from our retail shop.”
Aside from free community events and open houses, Heflin said The Workspace at Iowa State University’s Memorial Union offers its programs and services at an affordable price. “There is usually a lower rate for students,” she said. “We don’t get funding from Student Government or student fee dollars, so we depend on revenue to keep the space open.”
Similarly, students who sign up to attend workshops at The University of Oregon’s EMU pay a small fee to cover the instructor and associated materials.
Practical assessments are essential for student union leaders looking to continuously hone their craft centers and maker spaces. Oregon’s Salzman said EMU undertakes various assessments by term and academic year that analyze enrollment, demographics, and the university community population reached.
UF’s Baquero said the Reitz Union collects data on customer satisfaction and stress reduction. “We provide surveys to our walk-up customers, studio members, creative class students, and students who attend our free craft programs,” she said.
Iowa’s Memorial Union directs drop-in participants to a QR-code-based evaluation for each class, and instructors provide self-evaluations.
“We are also gathering contact info from student participants in programs and services to assess the impact on retention, as well as demographic info to see if there are gaps in populations we are reaching,” Heflin said.