Some student athletes at VCU are briefly trading in their basketballs, soccer balls and tennis shoes for paint brushes.
VCUarts assistant professor Ron Johnson created and currently teaches a course called Arts and Athletics. The class encourages athletes to take time out of their day to do something creative and shows art students the benefits of having daily rituals.
Johnson has been teaching for 15 years and said one of the reasons he started this class was because he knew the kind of pressure experienced by student athletes.
“I was an athlete growing up,” he said. “I could have been drafted to play baseball for the [Cleveland] Indians, but I played at Ohio State for a year.”
Aside from architecture courses, Johnson did not take any art classes in college — but he wishes he did.
“I just didn’t know [about the benefits],” he said. “I think that’s part of what’s interesting. I’m able to do this now with, kind of, that history that I have.”
Johnson said he does not only have athletes in the class. He also has students from the art school and other majors, such as business and various medical fields.
“[The class] is really just supposed to be an incubator for creativity,” he said.
Johnson said his perfect scenario would be to have an even number of students from different fields of study in the class at once.
“If I had 15 students in a class,” he said, “five would be athletes, five would be artists and five would be medical or business or whatever.”
The class has been available for four semesters, and a second section of the class was added recently. The two sections are structured differently, but have the same underlying goal, and the content design has the same motive.
The original class aims to get people creating and having a dialogue around the benefits of creativity.
“It’s kind of like a ‘society breaking down the walls’ in some cases,” Johnson said. “So-called ‘stupid jocks,’ which I’ve heard my whole life, are put with the ‘nerdy art students’ in a room and we just really see what happens.”
The second class has a stronger focus on mental health. While creating art is still a primary part of the class, Johnson hands out articles and the class has discussions about mental health.
“The second class has more of a structure,” he said. “One week we’ll deal with visualization, one week we’ll deal with mental health and one week we’ll deal with the idea of ritual or practice.”
Johnson has received positive feedback from both the arts and athletics departments, as well as the students themselves. Some athletes have even told him they switched their majors to something more in the creative realm after taking his class.
“One of the biggest compliments I’ve gotten was actually from an artist,” he said. “She told me after class that ‘this is what art schools should be like.’”
Lecture classes in college often consist of hundreds of students and create an impersonal experience with professors. Johnson said the personal nature of his class appeals to student athletes specifically because they primarily enroll in classes with that structure.
“I think they know that I try to deal with them as individuals,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to have conversations with them and find out what they’re interested in creatively.”
Both sections of the class are available every semester, and Johnson is in the process of creating a minor under the realm of creative practice.