California College of the Arts: An Easy Choice

Graphic DesignIf finding the best college fit is all about options and decisions, then California College of the Arts (CCA) is sitting pretty. Why? Simply put, the location, history, and course offerings of this small arts college combine to create a wide-ranging combination of options without the need for much compromise.

Let’s start with location. CCA resides where the open-minded and creative culture that defines northern California slams head-on into our hi-tech future. Twitter, Pinterest, Adobe, Pixar, and Intel are just a few neighbors that the college draws from for educational inspiration and contributes to, in the form of future employees.

Two seemingly opposite campuses in Oakland and San Francisco actually complement each other by fusing their two aesthetics. The historic Oakland site is where CCA began more than 100 years ago. The Arts & Crafts movement is readily apparent in this lush, residential-style and almost camp-like setting, which is also home base for the school’s First Year Program and freshmen housing.

Oakland campus

Oakland campus

Fittingly, it’s also home to the more traditional and craft-focused programs of ceramics, printmaking, photography, textiles, glass, jewelry, and sculpture. The San Francisco campus is the urban pair of this duo. The culture and tempo here fit its industrial and mixed-use setting, footsteps from the University of California’s biomedical research campus and the Dogpatch neighborhood that is bursting with artisan studios.

Major offerings here include painting and drawing, and the design-focused programs of architecture and interior design, graphic design, industrial design, and furniture design. Students decide their major by the beginning of sophomore year, giving upperclassmen the chance to live on either side of the bay. The college shuttle provides an easy connection between the two.

The depth and breadth of course offerings are front and center in the San Francisco campus main building. The “nave” of this light-filled former Greyhound bus terminal acts as display and critique center for class projects, constantly changing throughout the year. More importantly, it’s a hub of activity and cross-pollination for the college’s 22 undergraduate and 13 graduate majors, providing fodder for the stimulating interdisciplinary and exploratory vibe here.

Critique in the Nave

Critique in the Nave

David Asari, Assistant Chair for Graphic Design, explained that CCA’ers learn how to figure things out. The institution’s must be present to win attitude inspires “students to take responsibility and ownership, and give back to others,” he said. Student critiques are just one way “they develop the thinking and confidence skills to run the show in a few years.”

Due to its long-standing reputation, CCA has developed some top-ranked programs, each attracting faculty that are leaders in their respective fields. A few to check out include the internationally known ceramics program and the fashion design program, which was recently ranked as one of the best in the world. One of the campus’ newest programs is Interaction Design. It doesn’t focus on the form and material of Industrial Design, but rather on how people interact with objects. Think smartphones, apps, TV, etc.

Delve into CCA’s excellent website to learn more. Better yet, go visit. Make a day of it to ensure you see both campuses. It’ll be worth your time. They are making a difference and changing lives here. It’s all in their tag line: Make Art That Matters.

Interested in researching a specific college or program? Let me be of help. In the meantime make sure to catch all the latest Art.College.Life. news on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Leaving Your Heart In San Francisco

SFAI rooftop gathering

SFAI rooftop gathering

Around the corner from the compact hairpin turns of Lombard Street sits the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), one of the countries renowned art colleges. Tucked into the neighborhood known as Russian Hill, this compact campus has been a beacon of “creativity and critical thinking” since its formation in 1871. The college’s four artistic founders wanted an environment in which they could motivate and stimulate each other’s artistic development. That interactive and open philosophy drives the studies and feel of the college to this day.

 Focused on contemporary fine arts and cross-disciplinary study, you’ll find no commercial design courses here. The idea is to create working artists, engaged with and influenced by the world around them.

Freshmen dive into studio work from day one, taking two studio courses their first semester, and three their second. The Contemporary Practice Class fulfills the typical “foundations” role by exploring multiple mediums and genres, and introducing students to the urban environment around them – the city of San Francisco. Here, they tap into the city’s culture, its organizations and non-profits, and begin engaging with the world.

The college is divided into two schools, but students engage with and take courses in each. The School of Interdisciplinary Studies offers BA’s in Contemporary Art History and Urban Studies. The School of Studio

Photography lab

Photography lab

Practice offers BFA’s in Design and Technology, Film, New Genres, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, and Sculpture. As at other art colleges, liberal arts courses are structured to enhance artistic understanding and exploration. Studio Practice majors can take 11 electives during their four years on campus. They spend 70% of their time engaged in studio coursework, 30% in academic coursework.

With many open-ended assignments, self-motivation is a necessity. Each department has technical staff available for those needing a better understanding – or wanting to push themselves further. Additional campus resources include: free, nightly public lectures given by practicing artists, artistic thinkers, and curators; health insurance; and an almost endless amount of space for displaying your artwork.

Since the curriculum here is explorative in structure and study, it’s not surprising that graduates of the program are entrepreneurial. Many go on to start their own art galleries, or continue their artistic exploration in a residency program. SFAI statistics claim that 95% of alumni maintain a creative practice five years after graduation. That’s a strong number.

Hallway gallery space

Hallway gallery space

Colleen Mulvey, Associate Director of Admissions, was my campus tour guide. As with all SFAI admissions counselors, she holds an MFA from the college. Putting someone who’s walked-the-walk in the position of explaining the school is not always done, and quite frankly is frustratingly missing in some institutions. Not here; throughout the tour she continually brought our conversations back to SFAI’s core: the study and exploration of contemporary art in a truly open and engaging environment. If this philosophy sounds intriguing to you, I hope you’ll check the school out. Admission is based primarily on your GPA and portfolio. Contact the college with any questions. They offer free portfolio reviews as well.

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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