Good Things Come In Small Packages

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.

Summer Programs

English: The Art Academy of Cincinnati, locate...

The Art Academy of Cincinnati
(photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summer  is a great time to relax, soak up some rays, and hang out with friends.  It’s also a great time to expand your artistic horizons through a pre-college summer institute or local art class.  Here’s a chance to hone your existing skills or test the waters to find out if art is the right path for you.  You’ll experiment with new media, build your portfolio, and make friends with the same focused interests.

Numerous summer programs exist across the country as commuter classes and residential institutes.  If you can afford it I’d suggest a residential institute at a school you’d like to attend.  Some offer credit, or even waive the portfolio requirement when you apply for their college program.

Residential institutes typically last from one to six weeks, and they give you the opportunity to live on campus and begin to get a taste for real college life.

While you’re searching, don’t forget to consider state schools, and those in your own backyard.  Classes near home could save you money and still introduce you to the world of college art.

Here’s a list to get you started:

OTIS, Los Angeles, California

California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California

Art Academy of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio

School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Pratt, Brooklyn, New York

and of course…

Paris College of Art, Paris, France

National Portfolio Day

It’s National Portfolio time across the country.  What does that mean for you?  If you’re a high school art student contemplating an art career this is your opportunity to check out a wide variety of art and design colleges, learn about the programs they offer, and show off your own artistic capabilities.

From September through the end of January over 40 art and design institutions will host “National Portfolio Days,”which are art focused college fairs.  They give prospective students the chance to meet with representatives from a large variety of colleges with strong art programs.   In my neck of the woods, the Art Academy of Cincinnati and Columbus College of Art & Design are the hosts, holding National Portfolio Days on October 6th and 7th respectively.  Professors from AAC and CCAD along with representatives from over 35 other schools will be on hand to meet with students.

This two-way street opportunity is so much better than a traditional college fair.  Aspiring artists get to check out a variety of schools first hand, comparing various programs across the country.  Simultaneously, they receive a portfolio evaluation from college art experts, which can sometimes result in encouragement to apply.  Check out the National Portfolio Day website to learn about opportunities near you.

Before you go, make sure you’re prepared.  Here are four helpful tips to keep in mind.

1 – Review your portfolio.  Organize it so it tells the story you want to tell.  Is that by medium?  Subject matter?  Your story = your choice.

2 – Include sketches and work in progress.  Your technique and problem solving process is often more apparent in unfinished work.

3 – If some work is too large, fragile or cumbersome to carry, photograph it.  With that in mind, even though we now live in a world of electronics, don’t expect every school to have a laptop handy to view your work on a cd or dvd.  Bring your own, and make sure you’re battery is fully charged.

4 – Make sure to write down comments and critiques of your work.  You’ll want to remember what is said, and by whom.

Presenting your work to prospective art and design schools can be intimidating.  But National Portfolio Days are a win-win.  You’ll learn about a variety of programs and the artistic opportunities available for your future.   Breathe deep and dive in!