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VOL. 128 | NO. 54 | Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Northward Expansion

Visible Music College prepares to launch Chicago campus

By Andy Meek

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Thirteen years after Visible Music College founder Ken Steorts launched a school with a focus on music ministry and production that relocated into Memphis after outgrowing its original Lakeland campus, the school is preparing to launch a satellite campus.

Visible Music College students like Brittany Cole and Wesley Farmer, shown, will soon have counterparts in the Windy City. The Memphis-based school is preparing to open a Chicago-area campus later this year. (Photo: Courtesy of Visible Music College)

Visible’s Chicago campus, planned for the Chicago suburb of Lansing, Ill., will offer the same academic programs that are available at its Downtown Memphis facility. It will start with a full staff of educators and a little less than 30 students, and the plan is to open in the fall.

Steorts said the expansion fits with the school’s strategic plan, which has always been to build a “small, artist community, intimate college environment.” Then, once the first location had topped out at no more than 130 students, the plan called for finding an additional location to help capture some of the growth.

Visible also has what it calls a partner campus in Holden, Germany, called Schal Werk Stadt. And with the planned addition of even more campuses beyond the Lansing location, Steorts stressed that the school’s main administration will stay in Memphis, which he said means additional jobs in Downtown Memphis.

Also Downtown, Visible is preparing to finish construction on its glass-enclosed atrium on the ground floor in about three weeks.

“Our plan always was to start finding another location that made sense with who we’re attracting to the school and to open another campus rather than to just get to one big one,” Steorts said. “We’re really trying to make sure with our campus that everybody knows everybody.

“We did research on where our students are applying from. We discovered it was mostly the upper Midwest, and then California and Texas were kind of behind that. Chicago’s a great music city, we had some partners there in the Christian church circles, so we started investigating it.”

Steorts drew on his experience as a member of the band Skillet to start Visible. Already in its history, the school has embarked on a capital campaign, acquired its current facility, launched a record label and been accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, among other highlights.

From the outset, using the contacts he had from playing Christian music festivals, Steorts recruited students and developed a training program for certification in music ministry and production. A business program was added to help students focus on developing careers in addition to their talents.

The school kicked off a $6 million capital campaign in 2009 called “Into The City.” Phase one led to the acquisition of the former C&I bank headquarters at 200 Madison Ave.

The school has used its surroundings effectively in Memphis, with facilities like the iconic Ardent Studios employing several Visible students over the years.

Steorts oversees the school’s students and staff while at the same time helping develop the curriculum and programs. He also represents the institution to the local music industry and church leaders in the hopes of creating opportunities for musicians and forging partnerships with groups like the Stax Academy, Ardent and various churches and ministries around the world.

The college moved into its Downtown campus in 2011. That’s the same year the school also gave itself a new name – its current moniker – as part of a comprehensive rebranding effort.

The Downtown space includes four floors for performance, practice, classrooms and administrative areas. It has eight classrooms and five practice rooms, and its auditorium has the capacity to seat 180.

Visible’s fall enrollment stood at 126. Visible’s students and alumni represent 47 states, the top five of which are Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California and Minnesota.

Of the school’s alumni, about 92 percent are currently working in the music field in some capacity, according to the school.

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