MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — For the past 37 years, the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts, hosted by MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts, has been a tool for the education, training and development of artistic high school students across Tennessee.
This year, over 290 of these young artists will be performing and showcasing their talents at the grand finale events set for Friday and Saturday, June 24 and 25, following almost a month of instruction by a host of faculty from MTSU and across the nation in vocal and instrumental music, visual art, theater, dance and filmmaking.
MTSU assistant theatre professor Katie Goodwin, the new director of the Governor’s School for the Arts, also known as GSFTA, noted that students admitted this year, like in previous years, had to go through an application and selection process for the three-week summer residency program.
“GSFTA is for rising juniors and seniors who apply in the fall. We do a round of auditions and portfolio reviews to choose the right students for 22 days of arts education on campus,” said Goodwin, a six-year Department of Theatre and Dance faculty member who’s also an MTSU theatre alumna.
“They must show grades and transcripts to be considered. Each of the arts areas has a coordinator, and after the auditions, selections are made. They get three college credit hours (and) have (MTSU student) M-numbers and IDs. They are getting prepared for college life, too.”
This year’s Governor’s School has 293 students from 31 different counties across the state who were selected from among 600 applicants this year.
“In some years we have had 1,200 applicants,” said Goodwin. “We thought we would be virtual (again) this year as our numbers were lower last year due to COVID, but we are up by about 50 students, with hopes to get back to (the) 350 that are usually accepted.”
As host for the Governor’s School for the Arts, MTSU awards scholarships with Tennessee Department of Education grants to help students with program fees, allowing them to take advantage of an unforgettable on-campus experience.
“What happens a lot is that students who have attended the GSFTA are the ones who go back to their schools to tell others,” Goodwin said, “but that information does go out to all our schools in Tennessee before then — both public and private high schools, even to homeschooled students — just because we’re open to any high school student.”
GSFTA provides training, memorable experiences
Although they’re anticipating “wonderful pieces for parents and other people to come see what we have been doing,” Goodwin said an important part of the annual Governor’s School “is about the training and experience they are getting from the faculty, consisting of excellent artists and teachers.”
“They are working toward being able to present opera, orchestral (and) film premieres, showcasing music and acting,” she added. “A lot of them can perform, so we let them be on campus to immerse themselves in the arts education. They get the experience, make friends, who will be a part of their connection.
“They feel understood because they speak the same language of something they are very passionate about. They might not be surrounded by that in their various schools. They find kindred.”
MTSU flute professor hopes GSFTA builds dreams
MTSU School of Music professor and GSFTA instructor Deanna Little, who primarily teaches flute master classes and coaches chamber music, said Governor’s School uses chamber rehearsals so students “learn how to work as a team” and prepare for their performance during the last week of the camp.
She observed during one rehearsal that she hopes to see growth from her Governor’s School students.
“It is my hope that the music students grow as musicians, get a feel for what it may be like to continue with music in college, gain independence and functionality away from their homes,” Little said. “They should also become more goal-oriented about pursuing music, making lifelong friends and developing true perseverance in working toward their passions.”
GSFTA student in 2019, MTSU student in 2022
MTSU student Cameron Roberts, a Governor’s School alumnus, is assisting this year at the GSFTA office with logistics and social media. Now a junior music education major, Roberts said his experience in 2019 led him to that academic path.
“In 2019, I was in GSFTA for music, and that is the main reason I am here, because then I explored the beauty of MTSU and the beautiful facilities here, (and) I got to know the faculty,” Roberts said.
Roberts engaged this year’s Governor’s School applicants once they applied online “by following up on their correspondence, such as sending mail and following up for missing documents and financial responsibilities.”
He also circulates around campus “taking pictures to not only let the parents know that we are doing our job but to spread the word about Governor’s School.”
“Communication has been great, and everyone seems in high spirits to make sure the students have fun,” Roberts said.
He added that he considers himself lucky to be a part of the project.
“In receiving 600 applications, I know all these students’ names; I feel like I know them all. Being there in 2019 just made me know that this is where I want to be, and it is so fun to be behind the scenes. The students send me things to post, and it is fun that they see the campus the way I did,” he said.
As the high schoolers get closer to college, Roberts said, they need to begin making choices about their futures, and attending Governor’s School helped him do that.
“Not everyone goes into the field that they come here to study; some of them come to have fun, and some figure out what they want to do. I came to Governor’s School in MTSU in 2019 and figured out what I was going to do.”
Recruiting from rural Tennessee
Goodwin said she wants to see more representation from rural areas of the state in coming years.
“One of the things we are looking forward to next year is to take recruiting into some of the rural areas that we don’t traditionally have students come from,” she said. “We are well represented in some of our biggest cities, but the rural areas we don’t usually get (many) representatives.
“This could be that their high school may not have potentially the resources to have a robust (arts) program, such as a dance studio or community theaters that kind of help with development and love for arts.”
Goodwin has taken over the program’s leadership from longtime GSFTA director Raphael Bundage, a professor of vocal performance in the School of Music who led the Governor’s School for more than a decade.
The new director said she wants to “continue working on the standards that keep Governor’s School for the Arts up and going.”
“I do a lot of correspondence with the various areas on campus to make sure we are being good hosts. If we do it right, these kids will feel at home here, and when they look at where they want to go to college, they would consider MTSU,” she said.
She added that she hopes these young talents “get good experience” from what they are doing so that “they know they can go anywhere from GSFTA.”