Creating Working Artists

otis dot eduOTIS College of Art and Design is one of those small gems tucked into a corner of the thriving metropolis that is Los Angeles.  I visited the Elaine & Bram Goldsmith Campus last month, and basked in its creativity and warmth.  It’s a small campus – packed with vitality and vision.

An independent school of art and design, OTIS offers BFA degrees in eleven majors – with most classes taking place in the seven-story “cube,” the striking Kathleen Ahmanson Hall.  Initially built as the headquarters for IBM Aerospace in the early 1960’s the space has been completely renovated into working studios as classroom space.  The result: spacious, collaborative and noisy (in the good way) working environments.  Each floor is dedicated to a different department.  Artwork from the different disciplines lines the walls of each floor.  If you can’t remember which floor you’re on, just look at the wall art.  Seriously!  Upperclassmen have their own desks.

freshmen drawing class - large 2About 1200 attend the school – including grad students – which provides lots of opportunity for one-on-one time with professors.  Brooke Randolph, Assistant Dean of Admissions explained that students don’t need to declare a major until sophomore year.  In fact she said, “the first year here is dedicated to foundation classes, giving students the time and chance to explore.”  A Foundation Forward course is even available to help identify the right major.

The school’s nurturing emphasis is pervasive.  The First Year Experience (FYE) program kicks into full gear even before you step on campus.  With the goal of ensuring a fun and successful transition to college life, there are upper class peer mentors to guide you, “O” orientation week, and FYE experiences that extend into your classes.

Each major has its own distinct curriculum which could lead to an insular single-minded frame of reference.  Not possible; OTIS’s goal is to create working artists, and to give you a real-world education.  So, all students are required to take part in the Creative Action program, an integrated team-building experience where you’ll rely on the varied strengths of your peers in multiple majors to resolve problems for real institutions and businesses.  Experiences have included building a sensory garden for the Junior Blind with a xylophone wall of different sounds for each room, and a trip to China to help the world’s largest wooden toy company move to more sustainable materials.

Clearly, this is not a typical college in a number of ways.  Physically it occupies a large block in the hubbub of the city, near to beaches, the airport, and affluent west side communities.  Housing is provided for all first year students (freshmen or transfers) in a luxury apartment building a short 10-minute walk from campus. (Nice!)  A website offers resources for upper classmen to locate nearby apartments.  Parking is free and available for all students.

I have to say, my only frustration with OTIS was in trying to find information on their website.  But according to Brooke a new site is coming soon.

Want to learn more about the creative environment of Los Angeles and how it pertains to OTIS graduates?  Read OTIS’ 2012 Report on the Creative Economy.

Postscript: I won’t be blogging next week, but watch for a post I’m researching about the business aspects of being an artist.  Also, if there are any other specific topics you’d like to read about please let me know.

Location, Location, Location

LA palm treesWhere you attend college can have a huge impact on your education.  Are you looking for a small town or urban environment?  Want to be close to mom and dad, or far from them – on the other side of the country.  Wherever you choose to attend school will affect your experience.

But think farther down the road.  Where will you live as a productive artist after graduation?  That’s a tougher question to answer – but one to keep in mind as well.  Whether you find work after receiving a Bachelor’s degree or after completing a Master’s, if art is your world I’d suggest considering schools in the two biggest artistic scenes in the country; namely Los Angeles and New York City.

Connecting with your local art scene is a road to a broader perspective through show opportunities, contacts with other artists and prospective business resources, and just exposure to stuff going on.  You’ll gain from engaging with any city’s art’s community.  However, because of the size and diversity of LA and NYC, you’ll be ahead of the curve if you pursue your BFA or MFA in one of them.

Want to find out more?  Here are a few sources I enjoy to find out what’s going on:

Bill Bush and others post weekly as part of The Huffington Post’s Los Angeles Art Scene coverage.  LA Confidential focuses on the city’s changing art dynamic.  And the Los Angeles Times covers it all – including Hollywood.

For New York, keep up with New York Magazine’s art section, look into the blog NYC Art Scene for interesting exhibits and events taking place in the city, and don’t miss the New York Times Arts Beat blog.

NY taxicabsIn both cities you’ll find large and small programs to suit your needs.  Pratt, UCLA, California Institute of the Arts, and NYU are just the first that come to mind.  Then comes the easy part (ha!).  Do you prefer sunshine and beaches or Broadway and Times Square?

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