Alumnus and inaugural poet Richard Blanco discusses ‘stigma’ surrounding the Arts

Joshua Ceballos/Assistant News Director

Inaugural poet and visiting professor Richard Blanco believes that despite the stigma against the arts in the job market, art and creativity play a significant role in the modern day.

A renowned poet and storyteller, Blanco was selected by former president Barack Obama to read his poem “One Today” during his second inauguration ceremony in Jan. 2013, and has since gone on to publish books such as his memoir “Prince of los Cocuyos.

During an interview with Student Media, Blanco said that being chosen as the inaugural poet was life-changing, but he can’t rest on his laurels after this achievement.

“Okay that was that, but now what? What’s next,” said Blanco about the inauguration. “You can’t stay in that space all the time.You cherish and honor it, but you move forward…”

Chart by Charisse Mellison/PantherNOW

Blanco is now a visiting professor of poetry for the Fall of 2017 at FIU, his alma mater. Blanco received two degrees from FIU years ago, a Masters in creative writing and a Bachelors in civil engineering.

Blanco laughed as he described himself as a “poet engineer,” a combination of disciplines that even he admitted is unorthodox.

As for why he began his career as an engineer, something normally perceived as far removed from poetry or the arts, Blanco said it came out of influence from his family, though it was not an issue for him.

“I was always a left-brain and right-brain kid, so I just really loved and was enchanted by all kinds of knowledge and writing,” said Blanco. “But like most working class families, mine encouraged me to study some of the more traditional careers like engineering.”

Blanco said that he was happy to go into the engineering field, and it was in his job as an engineer that started him on the path to being a writer.

“It was actually in my engineering office where I started thinking about writing, in part because there was so much writing involved in my engineering job, like writing reports, and studies and proposals,” he said.

Blanco came into the world of arts once his career was already established in the STEM field, a career path widely perceived as more likely to make individuals employable. Blanco recognizes that people who pursue the arts generally have a harder time working and making money.

“My story is a little different because I came to arts and to poetry through the back door… but that being said, being an artist is always a difficult path but a very rewarding one, in part because art is more of a vocation than a career,” Blanco said.

What then, can students who love artistic and creative areas of study do when they need to put food on the table? Blanco said it is important for students to realize that they need to make a living without letting go of their vision.

“Always set up your life so everything points and supports your art, and never feel like a sellout because you have to do something else to earn a living,” he said.

As for the worth of a degree in an arts discipline such as creative writing or theatre, Blanco said that the value for the individual is not in the degree itself, but in the experience of the coursework.

Being amidst a group of fellow students and professors who share your interests and who can share in inspired conversations, Blanco said, is the most important part of pursuing a degree, and it is the part that he misses most after graduating.

When it comes to the value that arts have in the modern day, Blanco feels that they are becoming more appreciated in the mainstream now than they have been.

“The artist mind is becoming more and more appreciated in even the most technological fields,” said Blanco. “People think engineering is this stoic, one-dimensional thing, but even engineering involves some level of creativity.”

Blanco encourages students to find ways to apply their creative abilities and tendencies to technical fields, and to think outside of the box in order to find their place in the job market.

For students looking for specific employment opportunities for their majors, the University’s Career and Talent Development Department told Student Media about where students can search for employers around the country based on their area of study.

Blanco’s final advice for students in the arts was to not lose focus on their passion.

“First comes your dedication and love for the arts and the sheer pleasure of creating. That should come first, then the rest will follow,” said Blanco. “That’s something that I’ve tried to live by.”

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