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When Mount Mary University student Krista Olson was 10 years old, she made her first dress out of her grandmother's old flower shower curtain.

'I have always wanted to go into something artsy and hands-on because that's how I have always learned to do things,' she said.

Olson, a senior, is one of many students whose art will be displayed in CREO, an annual event showcasing student work from fashion, fine art, graphic design and interior design programs at MMU.

Olson, who describes her style as elegant, edgy and modest, chose to go to this well-known fashion university for a number of reasons.

'One main reason was the small class sizes,' she said. 'Before I even had my first semester, I knew that would benefit me greatly in expanding my knowledge. Another reason was the diversity. I didn't know this before I started going here, but I was immersed into an amazing atmosphere of different opinions, values and principles.'

Victoria Sterr, another student whose designs will be featured in CREO, was drawn to the school because 'it is known for having a prestigious and challenging fashion design program,' as well as the small class sizes and individualized attention.

Sterr and Olson have big plans for their fashion design futures. Olson's dream job would combine fashion design with another passion of hers — snowboarding. She would love to work for Burton or another snowboarding apparel company.

Sterr is open to any possibilities that come her way.

'I have many interests spanning from fashion illustration to textile design to menswear design to womenswear design,' she said, 'so I would like to explore a career in any of those creative fields and work my way up to the point where I have my own brand sold in stores ... my biggest dreams would involve designing for Alexander McQueen and Lady Gaga.'

Planning for the big night

Both Sterr and Olson's fashions will be modeled at the CREO fashion show, which is planned in part by both fashion design students and merchandise management students. Alexandria Steinke, a model in CREO, as well as one of the merchandise students involved in planning the show, said the planning process has given her real-life experience in event planning.

'Some of the decisions we make during the planning process are what music we want to have; how we want the stage to look; who we want to use as hair and makeup artists; and how we want to categorize the garments,' Steinke said.

'Backstage is where all the crazy chaos and excitement will be happening,' Steinke said. 'This is where the models will be getting their hair and makeup done and where the dressers will be helping the models get ready to showcase the designers' collections that they have worked so hard on this year.'

Art on display, too

While the culminating event of CREO is the fashion show, other students from the School of Arts and Design also showcase their works on campus, including Sophie Beck, a graphic design major who is the art director for MMU's student publication, Arches.

'Since high school, originally I always wanted to be a fashion designer,' Beck said. 'I took all the sewing classes in high school, but then I discovered an art class that taught the basics of Illustrator and Photoshop and realized I liked that much more. I really liked the ideas of going between drawing something on paper and manipulating it on the computer.'

Beck originally attended a school in Minnesota, but after deciding to transfer, she chose Mount Mary because of the friendly people on campus.

Lauren Kidd, a senior majoring in fine arts and art therapy who has some of her artwork displayed in CREO, was also a transfer student.

'I found an environment of like-minded young women who cared about their futures and, more importantly, cared about changing the future, cared about social justice issues, cared about actually making real and tangible social change,' she said.

Kidd said she feels she has slowly trickled into her career path because she didn't always know she wanted to study art.

'I actually started off as a psychology major because I didn't think that being an artist was career option,' she said. 'I chose art therapy because I really do have a passion for helping people as well as the art-making process.

'I draw the vast majority of my inspiration from the natural world, and most of my work is very content driven. As I said before, I'm very detail-oriented, so I gravitate toward very complex forms, like bones and crystals.'

Creativity vital at MMU

In an education world that is being bombarded with information about STEM programs and robotics, the Mount Mary art and design programs have held their ground.

The School of Arts and Design has approximately 330 students as majors and minors in undergraduate, graduate and art therapy doctoral programs, according to Barbara T. Armstrong, dean of the school. That represents a bit less than 25 percent of the total student population.

'Contrary to a narrative that tends to see arts as an 'accessory' to life, those trained in the visual and performing arts and in the design disciplines are essential to the success of our knowledge-based economy,' she said. ' In the last decade, we have seen the value of innovative thinking and the power of design play an important role in economic growth. In the Milwaukee region alone, recent studies (a 2011 Creative Industries Report from the Cultural Alliance) have shown that the value of the creative industries has produced over 66,000 jobs and over $2 billion in wages.'

Armstrong sees art and design students developing their ability to persevere and think out of the box.

'The visual and performing arts — our students learn how to test ideas, fail quick and be critiqued constantly,' she said. 'This builds resiliency. Three-dimensional thinking is required by interior design and fashion students, and in these disciplines, they learn not only how to build models or sew garments but how to see from a different perspective. Art therapists literally leverage the visual and performing arts to help others heal and grow. The focus to combine the arts with the sciences (from STEM to STEAM) acknowledges the value that those trained to think differently in arts and design can add value to the outcomes and innovations possible in other more 'traditional' disciplines.'

The art and graphic design sector of the show is on display at Mount Mary through Friday, May 6, while the fashion show, featuring over 75 garments, will be held at 1, 5:30 and 8 p.m. May 6 at Pius High School's Father Robert V. Carney Performing Arts Center, 135 N. 76th St., Milwaukee.

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