In both 2014 and 2015, I applied to sculpture MFA programs with a mixed portfolio of painting, sculpture, and collage. Several themes in my work reach across all of these mediums. My BFA was in painting but I completely switched my work from 2- to 3-dimensions during my senior year in undergrad. I had joined an independent studio in Greenville, SC about 10 months after graduating. My first round of new work with which to apply was made in my parents' garage.
The first try, I had high standards for myself, and placed priority in networking opportunities from reputed schools in art meccas. I visited several schools in Los Angeles and New York, but that was it. They promised at most, teaching assistant positions that did pay, but I could deem none of them affordable with cost of living. I got an interview at NYU, but rather feel that I bombed it, and I'm actually not sure I completed all 4 applications that I was set on. I wasn't ready, didn't have enough experience in a non-academic art world. I was determined to be in the 10% of first-time MFA applicants to get accepted, and I was fooling myself. That statistic includes an average number of schools applied to being closer to 7, and I only applied to 3.
The second time around, I interviewed with all three schools to which I applied, was waitlisted at Portland State University and accepted to PNCA & Clemson University. At the time, it pained me to even apply to Clemson just because they required a CD of images instead of online submissions like Slideroom. It seemed backwards and I have a strong dislike of football fans, (If you don't know about the sports presence here, just google Clemson football). However, I visited the school, and the choice was clear before I even received my decisions from the other schools in Portland. This is why:
Clemson offered me teaching assistant positions every semester, and the following year, to teach the classes myself with a new grad student assisting me. These positions pay me to attend the school, for working 8-10 hours per week. I can afford to live by myself here, in a house, for half the cost of a room in NYC, LA, Chicago, or Portland.
Clemson is 55 minutes from my parents' home in the same state. I am familiar with the area and the surrounding art community (I worked in a studio for the previous year in Greenville). It is 30 minutes from Anderson, SC, 40 minutes from Greenville, & less than 2 hours from Atlanta. I am also always needing more space for supplies and finished works, and increasingly realizing that I may need to find a barn or something for storage. There's no way I could manage to make and transport the work I do if I had to take a subway everyday. I know I take for granted that I see trees and grass every day here. I'm an exponentially happier person than I was living in a rowhouse in Baltimore.
3. Track Record
Clemson has a really good track record of placing MFA grads right into teaching positions after graduation, even full-time cases, which is unheard of. It was hard evidence that the other schools didn't show. Those in Portland made out the city's local art startups to be the biggest end-up situation for most grads after graduating. (I will post a photo of the notes I took from my phone interviews with the Portland schools soon.) Additionally, Clemson's presence in surrounding areas has blossomed in the past 2 years and has been establishing itself as a influential art force, stirring up the Pendleton Arts District in Greenville and reaching its students' work directly to buyers through the Community Supported Arts (CSArt) program.
I live and work at a comfortable pace here. The traffic is predictable (except for game days), the town of Clemson is safe, and the program works for me. I meet with my sculpture advisor weekly, which is a pretty high frequency compared to other programs. 1st-year MFA students have two open studios, a mid-term review and final review each semester, and I have the option of staying for an extra, 5th semester, which I do plan on taking. The program is small (12 total grads at the moment, and around 60 undergrads), which is a huge contrast to my undergrad experience at MICA. I didn't know it before I arrived on the first day, but our community is incredibly supportive of each other. I had expected the competition to be cutthroat but I feel strongly that we are all looking out for each other.
I could have passed on this opportunity, to wait another year, reapply & maybe or maybe not find another like it in a more urban area, which is what I really thought I needed to jumpstart a career afterwards. I don't think I'd find another program that allows me to work at this pace without exponential stress over finances, grueling criticism, or aggressively competitive or pretentious peers. The faculty have our best interests in mind, and are invested in our success, artistically and monetarily. Most importantly, I won't graduate with loans to pay off, which most would probably consider worth it even if they didn't like the program. I recommend this one highly, especially to recent grads. I believe what a professor told me about our time in grad school: that we'll never truly realize how much we appreciate it until it's over.