By Jane Lethlean 

The formal study of visual and performing arts at Highland Community College offers a well-rounded education and provides enrichment to the community that supports the art gallery, musical performances, and theatrical productions.

At Highland, a liberal arts education is defined as an understanding of the cultural, physical, and intellectual relationship to the world. With fine arts, students can aspire to study and receive the training necessary to prepare them for performance opportunities, whether it be in visual arts, music, or on the theatre stage.

Visual Arts

Dean of Humanities, Social Sciences and Fine Arts Jim Phillips said the study of the arts teaches students how to think logically, to analyze critically, and to be creative. He adds these are skills that are important to be a good citizen and to be successful in the world.

“As a historian, I am keenly aware of the debt we owe to those in the visual arts. We know more about cultural, political, and economic events throughout history because artists were there to capture events for future generations,” Phillips said.

“The Highland Community College Visual Arts faculty are student-centered and experts in their field. They work collaboratively to provide students with the most up-to-date techniques and information. I am proud of the work they are doing, and I encourage anyone who is interested in majoring in the Visual Arts, or who just wants to take one class, to reach out to the faculty and see what HCC’s Visual Arts program has to offer.”

The study of performing and visual arts includes the disciplines of art, graphic design, music, and theatre.  Through the many courses offered at Highland, students grow as individuals and gain the ability to apply their knowledge and experience in the arts beyond their HCC coursework.

Bob Apolloni, art instructor and Highland Gallery Director, showcases student and faculty artwork in the Highland Gallery. Some of the student and faculty work also has been on display at the Freeport Art Museum.

Annual shows at the Highland Gallery include the Juried District Art Exhibit and the Juried High School Exhibit. The Highland Gallery also showcases student, alumni, and community works of art.

“The formal study of visual arts here at Highland Community College constitutes an ideal environment for varied and insightful learning experiences. This knowledge and experience forms high levels of literacy, social and personal growth, and the development of higher-order and critical thinking skills,” Apolloni said.  

“Students are guided and empowered by faculty who are not only knowledgeable about facets of specific disciplines, but also have direct experience creating and exhibiting as professional artists. Our main focus is to provide our students with tools and experiences so they can master technical and philosophical ideals important to the visual arts and link this information to other facets of life so they can continue to learn and mature as productive members of our society.”


The Fine Arts Theatre curtain rises and falls for productions featuring Highland students and community members each year, and Summerset Theatre performances have been an annual tradition for the College and the community for more than 40 years. Highland has long been known for its quality theatre program, which helps both students and members of the community develop theatrical skills.

In the fall, elementary school students from the area enjoy coming to the Ferguson Fine Arts Center to see live theatre, many for the first time, with the “Children’s Show.” Productions in the past have included “Aladdin,” “Charlotte’s Web,” and numerous other children’s favorites.

Theatre instructor Laura Early said, “Theatre gives the actor a chance to collaborate, to work with others, and be willing to go out and make a mistake and learn from it. It allows them to be out in front of people and not cringe, take on the character and make that character their own.”


Highland’s vocal music ensembles – including the Royal Scots, the Chorale, the Youth Choir, and the Chamber Singers – perform concerts each spring and fall at the Fine Arts Theatre on campus.

The Chorale is made up of members from communities across northwest Illinois and southern Wisconsin. It is a diverse cross-section of the population, which includes a demographic of Highland students, professionals, and people from the business community.

The Highland Youth Choir is for young people from first through 12th grade. They participate in a variety of concerts throughout the year.

The Chamber Singers is a choral ensemble of approximately 25 singers who represent all areas of the College. This ensemble boasts a repertoire that ranges from renaissance to contemporary compositions. The Chamber Singers also are involved with the annual Highland Madrigal Dinner, which consistently sells out to an audience eager to feast on the food and music of the season. The Madrigal Dinner comes complete with a medieval king, queen, jester, wench and royal court.

The Royal Scots, under the direction of Jeff DeLay, are a group of 12 singers who perform a wide variety of challenging arrangements from jazz standards to Broadway show tunes, mixed with songs from the Great American Songbook and pop music selections. The Royal Scots, a long tradition at Highland, have a musical repertoire that has something for any audience. Over the years, they have performed at vocal jazz festivals at Carnegie Hall and jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.

The HCC Big Band is comprised of students and community members high school age and older. This allows for a blend of exciting and eclectic music for members to perform.

The HCC Community Concert Band is a 40-member instrumental ensemble comprised of students, faculty, and community members high school age and older who perform traditional and contemporary works from the standard repertoire.

For more information about the visual and performing arts at Highland, call Jim Phillips at 815.599.3469.

Career outlook for Visual and Performing Arts

Year Graduations: 107,451
Average starting salary: $35,000
Average mid-career salary: $55,000