Finally…Grad School!

The big news: after 10 years of dreaming, scheming, creating, fretting, failing, discovering, and succeeding, I’m going to art school!  This fall l will enroll as a student in the MFA in Applied Craft and Design program offered, in collaboration, by the Pacific Northwest College of Art and the Oregon College of Art and Craft in the great city of Portland, Oregon.  I say “this fall,” but my program begins this Monday, 8/20, with a two-week design/build project, in which all in-coming grad students are suddenly thrown together to create a space with a very real purpose for a very real client.

I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard we will be building a Bike Hub, a community bike center, in the New Columbia neighborhood of North Portland.  This project has been years in the making, thanks in large part to the Community Cycling Center, a local non-profit which believes “the bicycle is a tool for empowerment and a vehicle for change.” Since I found inspiration in the Netherlands last summer I’ve come to believe quite strongly that safe, accessible forms of active transportation, like bicycling, are vital to the formation and longevity of vibrant communities and the overall livability of our city.  The coincidence or serendipity of the chain of events which has led me to this program is simply remarkable.  Never in a million years could I have planned this!

What attracted me to the Applied Craft + Design program can be summed up this way:

With a curriculum focused on the development of a strong artistic voice, the realization of work for a specific community or client, and entrepreneurism that connects making a living with making a difference, the MFA in Applied Craft and Design is the only graduate program of its kind.

I contemplated a more traditional route: a highly-ranked ceramics MFA program at an established school like the University of Nebraska or the University of Minnesota.  These excellent programs have a highly competitive admissions process, many artists applying year after year before gaining entrance (because dozens or hundreds of artists are vying for maybe 1-4 spots in the program each year).  While some pretty incredible artists emerge from these programs, they focus on the individual artist and do not, as a facet of the program, emphasize the relationship between the artist and his/her community.  I believe, in the end, this may be to the detriment of future artists, for how we can make a living has changed dramatically and will certainly continue to evolve.  New paradigms are needed to prepare students for professional life.

I did apply to NE and MN, by the way, and was rejected by both.  But I am so glad!  Portland has become home to me like no other city in which I’ve ever lived. This city has inspired me to want to do more than just make art and be a traveling workshop presenter (every little potter’s dream, to be “famous”).  After two+ years of really living in the city (I live downtown), I better understand the importance of a strong, healthy community.  I’ve seen how design can have a profound effect on livability.  I want my career to have a direct connection with and positive effect on my community, and this program is uniquely designed (and perfectly located!) to help me do just that.

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