People who think outside the box often are contagious, possessing the ability to transform their ideas into actions because others want to follow and help. Dr. Craig Collins, dean of the College of Arts & Media at Southeastern University, is one of those type people, constantly finding ways to elevate the image of the Lakeland university — and the arts in general — while ensuring students have the best experience possible. In many ways, those go hand in hand.

Since he joined the college in 2013 after being principal at Harrison School for the Arts in Lakeland for 12 years, Collins has:

  • Improved programs for students by adding a bachelor’s degree in visual arts and a master’s degree in creative writing.
  • Oversaw the $22 million construction of the 20,000-square-foot Buena Vida Building, where the College of Arts & Media is now located.
  • Partnered with the arts community to host the Sm(ART) Symposium at SEU
    for several years and to create, organze and present Sinfonia: Connecting the
    Arts and Community.

His love for the arts started at a young age and continued through college, when he served as drum major for the marching band at the University of Florida. But his love transcends music: He has a keen eye for photography, snapping photos during travels to document his adventures, and a heart for interesting and diverse artwork.

“Under the leadership of Dr. Craig Collins, Southeastern University has developed a greater appreciation for the arts,” said Dr. William Hackett Jr., SEU’s provost. “He has raised the bar and broadened the experiences and opportunities our students have to engage in media programing and the arts and to share their talents with community.”

Here are four things you may not have known about SEU, where about 3,000 students attend classes at the Lakeland campus, and its contributions to the arts community:

  • Student immersion on campus. Following the 2017 opening of the College of Arts & Media’s new building, students now have classrooms designed specifically for their fields of study, whether drawing, practicing piano recitals or preparing to play at halftime at a Fire football game.
  • Student exhibits. Campus life meets the community as students put their work on display for fellow students, professors and staff, as well as the community at large. Still lifes hang from the walls as film students practice the latest comedy show. “I always enjoy the numerous ways our faculty and students move beyond the four walls of the classroom. From musical performances to our ekphrastic poetry event at the Polk Museum of Art, these events use the arts to build meaningful bridges into the community,” said Dr. Cameron Hunt McNabb, associate professor of English.
  • Community involvement. Not everything that happens on campus stays on campus. For the last three years, the Humanities Department within the College of Arts & Media hosted a creative writing seminar that included an open invitation to the community. For a nominal fee, attendees were able to get writing tips from well-known authors like Tom French to local writers like Joni Fisher. The college has also orchestrated a film festival that has attracted films from across the globe. As part of that, Collins brought in cinematographer Stephen Campbell, who has worked on several episodes of The Walking Dead, to show audience members how lighting plays a part in TV shows and movies.
  • Community outreach. In March 2018, Collins introduced Sinfonia: Connecting the Arts & Community, a special concert honoring military veterans. Hollywood conductor Joseph DeBeasi composed a special piece that debuted at the event, and worked with several local officials to take part as guest conductors during the performance. But Collins’ local relationships helped make the performance a reality, including assistance from the Polk Veterans Council. “ Sinfonia was purposed to challenge our perspectives and to tell, through music, one of the overlooked stories of our communities: veterans and the battle in their souls that continues long after they return from deployment,” Collins said. “The event itself embodied community, bringing together students from SEU’s Department of Music, the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, bagpipe performers from Lake Wales, Miss Florida 2017 and the ROTC from Florida Southern College and SEU — all to celebrate the power of music in telling a narrative, one which honored our nation’s military personnel.”

“At Southeastern, we believe that one of the many facets of growth can be seen in the engagement of arts and media as it enables individuals to express their God-given creativity,” said SEU President Dr. Kent Ingle. “his creativity can be seen through the many film projects our students produce at the annual Film Festival to the art exhibits that showcase our students’ artwork in the Buena Vida art gallery. We find it imperative for our students to express their creativity and provide a venue for the community to participate in that creativity. We welcome the community’s contribution to our growing art programs.”

Meri Mass, executive director of the Polk Arts Alliance and a member of the CAM’s advisory board, appreciates what SEU brings to the community.

“SEU has a dynamic campus that not only inspires learning and importance of faith, it inspires social interaction and the importance of community and kindness that is then extended out into the community,” Mass said. “The SEU campus provides a great feeling of family and unity with a dynamic culture of many great experiences a student (and the community) can participate in, enjoy and learn from all genres of the arts and sports. I am always impressed with the level of professionalism of the students and their level of respect at all times.”