Nebraska builds partnerships in India, Nepal for Global Arts Academy

Andy Belser and Hank Stratton with students and faculty at the American Center in New Delhi.
Andy Belser and Hank Stratton with students and faculty at the American Center in New Delhi.

Nebraska builds partnerships in India, Nepal for Global Arts Academy

calendar icon28 Feb 2024    user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen

Lincoln, Neb.--The Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts began developing partnerships and recruiting for the new Global Arts Academy with a visit to Nepal and India in February.

Dean Andy Belser traveled to Nepal and was then joined in India by Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film Director Hank Stratton, Johnny Carson Endowed Director in Emerging Media Arts Megan Elliott and Visual Communications Specialist Muskan Yadav. The four met with students, teachers and counselors, while also presenting masterclasses and meeting with partner institutions to explore new collaborations.

“This was a highly successful and inspiring trip,” Stratton said. “Having the opportunity to meet so many of the industry thought leaders, as well as the educational community, further convinced me of the enormous opportunities for partnerships.”

The Global Arts Academy aims to recruit world-class students through a curated four-year program that will immerse a cohort of both international and domestic students in a transformative academic and co-curricular experience.

“The trip was incredibly productive in establishing many different aspects of the Global Arts Academy,” Belser said. “We established strong connections with many high schools who are excited for us to return in September/early October to teach workshops for students and meet with parents. We are planning to take a few faculty members with us to teach these workshops and to establish other long-term programs with schools that will include summer school programs in India and/or Nebraska; professional development for high school faculty in India and Nepal; and establishing relationships with prominent alumni in the arts from the schools we visited.”

Elliott was glad to re-connect with colleagues in India.

“I have worked and partnered with Indian media and entertainment companies since 2006—I even lived in Mumbai for a while—so it was simply amazing to be back and be re-connected with friends and colleagues,” she said. “That and absorbing the truly electric energy and the dynamism of the media and entertainment industries were the highlights. India is set to have one billion smartphones in 2026, which will increase the adoption of emerging media technologies and mobile-first entertainment. It’s a critical market for our students and faculty to understand and partner with.”

The team also established strong connections with three universities in India, as well as a film institute in Nepal.

“Each of these colleges and universities are excited by the possibilities for student and faculty exchanges, collaborative artistic projects and research, and articulation agreements that allow students to easily understand how to plan study in India, Nepal or the U.S.,” Belser said. “We even have been invited to apply for an Indian grant in collaboration with a university that would create an online digital repository of Indian cultural assets, including music, film, dance and fine arts.”

They also met with potential industry partners.

“Infosys has already offered a fully paid summer internship for eight of our students,” Belser said. “I could not have imagined how productive this trip turned out to be. I look forward to sharing these opportunities with college faculty and staff.”

Infosys is the only Indian company in the top 100 companies globally and has an internationally awarded global entrepreneurship program.

“The absolute highlight was meeting with Infosys in Bangladore,” Elliott said. “Eight Carson Center students will be selected to travel to Bangladore for approximately 10 weeks this summer where they will make documentaries and short-form videos as interns for Infosys Communications Department and the Managing Director of Corporate Marketing and Global Head of Academic Partnerships. Infosys will cover all costs, and students will receive a stipend on top. Infosys has never done this before, and we are beyond thrilled at this outcome from our first trip to India as we set up the Global Arts Alliance.”

Their meetings also included VFX companies such as Industrial Light and Magic, Framestore and Jellyfish Pictures; animation company Assemblage; Epic Games in India; and Rockstar Games, among others. They also had meetings with FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) Frames, the trade association that represents the voice of India’s business and industry to government.

“We met and talked at length with three of India’s digital media pioneers, who advise the Indian government on film, broadcasting, animation, games, VFX, AI, XR and DEI policies, economic growth and education strategies: Neeraj Roy, founder and managing director of Hungama Digital Media; Vishal Gondal, founder of India Games and GOQI; and Parmesh Shahani, author of Queeristan and founder of the Godrej DEI Lab,” Elliott said.

Stratton was impressed with the students they met.

“The students I met were creative, engaged and brave,” he said. “Their openness to the work was truly inspiring. I taught a class at the American Center (part of the Embassy) that was attended by 140 in person and virtually, a blend of high school and college students, educators, parents and industry. I then taught a highly successful class at Bennett University and another one at Pathways. Each class demonstrated an eagerness to work and a curiosity about the possibilities in Nebraska.”

Belser said the students were interested in the opportunities to further their training and careers.

“Particularly in India, there is a strong family focus on making sure young people have career opportunities through higher education,” he said. “Therefore, the focus has often been on sending children to STEM or business-focused programs. We repeatedly heard that this is now changing, and many more students and parents are open to the arts as learning and career paths. This was most encouraging.”

Response to the workshops they presented was positive.

“These students simply have not had access to a lot of training of the sort we were teaching,” Belser said. “To be clear, a few high schools had very strong arts courses that were mostly focused on visual arts and traditional Indian music and dance. Very few had any theatre training, and none had courses in media-centric fields like graphic design or emerging media. We found very strong interest in all our college’s programs.”

The Global Arts Academy’s focus on sharing culture was appreciated.

“What we heard was that the Global Arts Academy is so very different as a model of international partnered education,” Belser said. “And that difference was incredibly meaningful to counselors, administrators and students. Many U.S. universities are recruiting students, but none are setting up such a layered and holistic approach to cultural exchange that is the core of the Global Arts Academy. The Hixson-Lied brand has the potential to grow quite quickly in India and Nepal as we establish the next steps. It’s very important that we begin to have faculty travel in our very next trip and subsequent trips. We want to establish long-term connections with organizations that will yield long-term outcomes. Faculty are going to be very important in making those connections.”

While some students may come for the fall 2024, the focus is on establishing long-term partnerships starting with a larger recruiting class in the fall of 2025.

Belser said the timing of establishing the Global Arts Academy now couldn’t be better.

“The Global Arts Academy model is perfectly timed, in terms of the Indian national and state government policies that are seeking and funding greater international opportunities and exchanges, as well as greater arts and cultural opportunities within K-12 education,” Belser said. “The Global Arts Academy model resonated with many different organizations and was received with overwhelmingly positive feedback. Combined with strategically increasing our territories for domestic U.S. recruiting, adding Global Arts Academy students holds great promise to grow enrollments in our programs quite quickly. Additionally, we see exciting opportunities for international students and faculty to collaborate in meaningful ways across cultures.”

Stratton said they laid important groundwork with administrators, educators and counselors.

“The response to the Global Arts Academy was astounding—and there’s a universal willingness to partner with us,” he said. “This could include student and faculty exchange programs, creative collaborations, as well as students coming to UNL for a full course of study. Following these classes, the students have connected with me on LinkedIn and Instagram and have sent me links to their work and expressed a strong desire to stay connected and learn more about UNL.”