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450px-Art-Academy-of-CincinnatiThe Art Academy of Cincinnati (AAC) is a sweet gem tucked into the burgeoning Over-the-Rhine district of Cincinnati. I got the chance to visit in late spring, right after classes ended for the semester. But even then, the creative vibe of the school was still readily apparent. Amy Scarpello, a 2010 sculpture graduate of the school, was my tour guide.

The college moved to its current location in this trendy neighborhood in 2005. The campus core is comprised of two renovated warehouses, united by a light-filled stairway. A LEED-certified green building; it oozes creativity and culture in an urban environment.

AAC prides itself on its petite size and intimate, interdisciplinary education. According to Amy, the small student body of only 220 students makes it easy to build lasting personal relationships with peers and professors alike. Typical studio classes have 15 students and academic classes have around 18. Upper level courses are even smaller.

A 1:2:1 structure provides the core of the college’s curriculum. Year one unites freshmen as they take all foundation coursework together. A fine artist and a designer team teach the first studio course, exposing students to varying perspectives and disciplines from the get-go.

Limestone slabs in the printmaking studio

Limestone slabs in the printmaking studio

Years two and three afford opportunities to explore different media, dive deeply into a major, and gain proficiency. However, the emphasis is still on interdisciplinary learning. Students are required to take five studio courses within their major and seven outside of their major, providing them with the tools to express themselves across a multitude of visual languages, and from a variety of different vantage points.

Year four brings everyone back together again for seminar coursework, with the first semester taught by a fine artist and the second taught by a designer. Liberal arts classes are sprinkled throughout the program, with writing as a constant throughout.

Major areas of study include art history, drawing, illustration, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture (including ceramics), and visual communication design. Beginning this fall the school will add new classes in animation and film video.

One of the unique features about AAC is its plethora of off-campus experiences. In addition to internships – which are required for all students – the college provides access to art schools across the country and abroad. The New York Studio Residency Program gives selected students the chance to study at the School of Visual Arts for a studio-intense semester, and the AICAD Mobility Program offers the opportunity to learn at another AICAD school. The cost for either of these programs is a real bargain, as tuition is the same as attending AAC for the term. The college does not have its own study abroad program, but does help students connect to a qualified one outside of the U.S. Unfortunately, AAC scholarships are not applicable for outside programs.

Campus culture is all about engaging students – in creating art and with each other – from the beginning of their four years to graduation. One of the cool facts I learned about the school is that freshmen orientation purposely takes place on Final Friday when gallery shows are up throughout the neighborhood.  While walking around, freshmen get a chance to mingle with other students, orient themselves to a new community, and see their futures.

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