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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College News Update: 1/13

Want to keep up to date on the latest news from art programs across the country?  Me too!  From time to time I’ll post timely findings that I think are relevant.    Here’s what I’ve found this week – – –

school logoOn Tuesday, February 5th, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) will present its inaugural “Beyond RISD” lecture series.  The lectures are designed to create conversations around the work of RISD alumni, giving current students and the public at large the opportunity to explore a variety of creative career opportunities.  Each event is free-of-charge and open to the public.  The speaker line-up through April includes sculpture, painting and photography alumni.  Detailed information can be found at beyond.risd.edu.

In June 2013, the College of Visual Arts (CVA) in St. Paul, Minnesota will close its doors.   According to an article posted on Minnesota Public Radio, the school is closing primarily because of its “inability to meet financial and academic needs of its students.”  According to the article, the four-year art and design institution suffered from a deep drop in enrollment this past year.  Classes will continue through spring semester, with promises of financial aid met through the end of the academic year.   MPR reported that CVA has reached an agreement with the Minneapolis College of Art and Design to take in students who will be seniors next year.

Parsons logoParsons is returning to Paris!  In 1921 the (then) New York School of Fine and Applied Art initiated a Paris program.  Over the years the relationship waned and eventually ended, presenting Parsons with the opportunity to open a new Parisian campus.  This fall, the new campus will open its doors, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as study-abroad opportunities.  To learn more about it visit the Parsons Paris webpage.

logoThe San Francisco Art Institute’s (SFAI) Open Drawing Studio begins again this Friday, January 25th and runs through Friday, April 26th.  A well-known art resource in the Bay Area since the 1950’s, the free Open Drawing days let art students of all levels draw from a live model in a relaxed environment.  Open Drawing days are open to the public on the SFAI campus.  Details can be found on their website.

Savannah College of Art and Design is offering its SCAD Summer Seminars for rising high school sophomores, juniors and seniors.  Designed to offer prospective college students a sneak peek into what it’s like to pursue an art degree, this program consist of week-long workshops in a variety of artistic media and disciplines.  The admission requirements – including scholarship opportunities – are listed on their website.