By Melissa Mitchell Clairvoyants aside, nobody can predict the future. But Kathryn Martin, the dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, has some good ideas about what lies ahead for the arts and arts education in the next quarter century. She made her prognostications last week during her talk, "Challenges for Arts in the 21st Century," part of the University YMCA's "Know Your University" series. Conceding at the outset of her lecture that it is easier to talk about issues, problems and situations than it is to list solutions to inevitable challenges, Martin insisted that one thing is clear: "Old patterns and ways and assumptions aren't going to apply to what we do for long." If the arts are to survive and thrive in our society well into the next century, "many of us in the arts will have to do a better job of integrating what we do with what's going on around us," she added. Specifically, artists, architects and urban and regional planners will need to be increasingly aware of how social and environmental issues relate to their work, she said. The biggest challenge will be finding ways "to improve the quality of life - the environment in which people live - so everyone can make a more positive contribution," she said. And, Martin hopes, rather than simply responding to existing problems, UI graduates will be prepared to play a more visionary role. "As educators, we need to be more proactive - to define problems, but realize that we can't solve it all," she said. In fact, faculty and students in the College of Fine and Applied Arts already are moving in new directions and learning first-hand how relatively small efforts can have a big impact on society. For instance, Martin cited the East St. Louis Action Research Project directed by architecture professor Ken Reardon. The ongoing project involves students in the departments of urban and regional planning, and landscape architecture who work with community planners and residents to improve the quality of life in low-income areas of the city. So far, the students have worked on comprehensive community development plans; assisted with a community clean-up; helped design and build a park and playgrounds; and conducted research that will be used to develop a farmers' market. And, as a result of the UI's involvement in that community, 13 high school students from East St. Louis have enrolled in the university. Martin also mentioned another recent project that gave architecture students valuable real-world experience. Working with communities devastated by last summer's flooding of the Mississippi River, students helped local officials and residents develop strategies for reducing the extent of damage from future floods. Martin said other factors that already have begun to challenge arts educators are shifting demographics and rapidly developing technologies. In addition to the college's need to recruit more female and minority faculty members and students, "we may have to redefine bodies of knowledge that constitute the bases of our disciplines," Martin said. Currently, in every area of the college, those bodies of knowledge "are based on a predominantly West European heritage," she said. "How do we deal with that in a society that's becoming increasingly less West European?" Arts educators also must adapt swiftly to technological changes occurring in virtually every area. Clearly, educators and practitioners should explore uses for various technologies, Martin said. But they also should question the impact of these technologies. For instance, she said, more and more, electronic keyboards are replacing pianos. "But have we addressed issues of learning, such as, 'Do children learn faster on a keyboard?' " In considering these and other issues, Martin said, the biggest questions are: "How do we accommodate these changes? How do we make these adjustments? Where do we start? What do we do?" Martin reiterated that she doesn't pretend to have the answers. But the time to start asking the right questions is now, she said.