Flint's diverse populations present many challenges, and the FIA conscientiously works to improve relationships through communication and service. Recent changes in the city's population, tax base, and economy have significantly altered its environment. Paradoxically, with its college student population far exceeding workers in manufacturing, Flint has become a "college town." Today, 33,000 students are enrolled at institutions of higher learning in Flint, 21,000 of whom are within walking distance of the museum. The University of Michigan–Flint has been the fastest growing campus in Michigan for the last four years. Additionally, Mott Community College reported the highest enrollment in its 80-plus year history.
This large population of students is often taken for granted. Economic experts insist that attracting and retaining young professionals is key to our future economic vitality, and increasingly, data shows that young college-educated workers want a sense of place, defined by unique community features like robust offerings for arts, culture, and entertainment. They seek social connections with like-minded people in both their professional and personal lives, and accommodating this need is key to economic development in Flint.
Designed to address the social and cultural needs of this community, the FIA has developed an innovative program to provide area college students and faculty with unlimited access to its programs, films, special exhibitions, and collections. Since its inception, this initiative has been an incubator for cultural collaboration between the colleges and the FIA.
The College Town Membership is one of the most significant and innovative programs the FIA has developed. As the only collaboration of its kind in Michigan (and possibly the nation) between an art museum and multiple colleges and universities, the goal of the College Town Membership Program is to strengthen Flint college students' sense of being a part of a community, providing them with culturally enriching experiences and creating a cultural community for the future.
Open to college students from all academic disciplines attending school in Flint, students who join enjoy nearly unlimited access (free of charge) to a variety of experiences so vital to their growth as students and future leaders.
Now in its fifth year, the College Town initiative has demonstrated, through specially designed programs, the strong link that can exist between the arts, technology, and communication. As a result, the museum experience has become more interactive and relevant to students pursuing a broad range of academic interests. Student membership for the 2012–2013 academic year is now at 1,300, and a growing daily student presence in FIA galleries and at events, indicates that the program continues to exceed expectations.
John B. Henry III