ProArts Connect

Danielle Dreilinger
January 24, 2011
Drew Kalm boasts a pair of ever-popular ProArts Connect temporary tattoos.
Berklee student Drew Arndt participated in the multi-college Art Sound Build project in a Boston gallery and is now taking a class at Emerson.
Through ProArts Connect, Berklee alt-country band <a href="" target="_blank">Visions</a> found their album cover designer: MassArt student Skye Asta Devine Schirmer.

Even a solo performer will eventually need to reach out. Perhaps you need a bass singer for a musical about Tonya Harding. Or you're a film scoring major with a dearth of films to score. Maybe you just want to spend July in Madrid.

Forget Craigslist. For the last year, Berklee students, faculty, and staff—and their counterparts at five other Boston arts colleges—have been able to find roommates and bandmates on ProArts Connect. The website, launched in February 2010, is greeting its first birthday with almost 3,500 registered users.

Berklee students have long been able to take classes at the Boston Architectural College (BAC), Boston Conservatory (BoCo), Emerson, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA).

But Ross Bresler, Professional Arts Consortium executive director and an associate professor teaching art history in the Berklee Liberal Arts Department, thought the partnership could do more "to build a larger community of young artists in Boston," he said.

Hence ProArts Connect, which has classifieds, job opportunities, and more. It offers the perfect balance, Bresler thought, allowing students to reach beyond their own circle but still stay within a known group. The fact that everyone is tied to their college email addresses "provides an extra layer of security," Bresler said. In 11 months, not a single post has been flagged as offensive.

Berklee currently has about 1,500 registered users, who can even connect via Facebook or access ProArts directly through the college's CampusCruiser intranet. All the colleges are linking the site to their own intranets in some way, Bresler said.

And creative collaborations have been piling up. Last summer students from Berklee, the BAC, and the SMFA put together Art Sound Build, an ambitious multimedia installation, at the Mobius gallery. Berklee student Ben Camp found a videographer to shoot a documentary. Travis Root, also from Berklee, got a guitarist to join his band from Emerson. He's never made a post that didn't get a response, he told Bresler.

Kayley Bishop, a sixth-semester musical theater major at the Boston Conservatory, is a big fan of the site. BoCo students don't have much room in their degree programs to take classes at other ProArts schools, but ProArts Connect "has opened up opportunities for students to get involved in projects that are outside their major, or simply get hooked up with a piano or guitar teacher for private lessons."

These new interdisciplinary connections will benefit their careers in the long run, Bresler thought: "From a very pragmatic level, no matter what these kids end up doing they're going to have to collaborate."

Sometimes the teamwork is literal: Bresler used the site to organize a kickball game in November.

While fame may be years in the future, ProArts is also solving one common problem for students here and now: housing.

Take Maria Kowalski, a violin performance major, who needed a third roommate for her apartment on Commonwealth Avenue. She tried Craigslist but "you just don't find people who have similar interests," she said.

Enter ProArts. Kowalski's new roommate, a BAC student, "understand[s] the passion" and lifestyle quirks of a career in the arts—nights and weekends spent in recording sessions, "gear all over the house," Kowalski said.

The differences turned out to be just as compelling. Having daily contact with an artist in another discipline is "kind of refreshing," Kowalski said. "We learn things from her. . . It's a nice break from the Berklee norm."

It's gotten Kowalski to think more broadly about the artists around her. "I think it's a very good idea to link the different arts scenes in Boston up," Kowalski said. "It widens the pool of people."

To kick around ideas—or just a ball.