New Hampshire Institute of Art (visited 10/17/16)
This is a small niche school, right for the very focused student who knows what he/she wants to do and wants individual attention. “Going to art school is about following your passion. It’s about a lifestyle,” said an admission rep. As with many Institutes of Art, they’re hidden kind of in plain sight. “We’ve been around for 118 years and no one knows about us. We’re aiming to change that,” said the President.
NHIA knows what they’re doing, and they do it very well. One of its distinguishing factors is its location right in the city of Manchester (incidentally, the first planned and one of first electrified cities). The college is small, filled with people who are makers and want to contribute and make an impact on their community. The students bring service, much of it art-oriented, to the city itself; they clean parks, paint murals, and partner with the Manchester school district to bring art to the schools. They also intern in the city and beyond.
The five studio-based majors offer an optional 1-year MAT program; the BFA in Creative Writing does not yet have an MAT option. Almost 1/3 of the students are enrolled as Illustration majors with almost another ¼ each in Fine Arts and Photography. Ceramics, design, creative writing, and the interdisciplinary program pull 10% or less of the population. All students get a MacBook loaded with InDesign, PhotoShop, Adobe, etc with the idea that the more skills they have, the more employable they are.
Regardless of major, all students take a common Foundation class that crosses disciplines. Students are presented with common topics, prompts, and questions; for example, they might look at the Holocaust, and they’ll work towards solutions and presentations through their particular lens. The interdisciplinary start allows for growth and collaboration which is so important in the art world. They’re prepared for jobs, and they’re graduating with less debt than students at many other A&D schools. “We aren’t spending money on rock climbing walls. We’re spending it on things that matter to art students,” said the president.
Students develop a professional practice while here; this is the only art institute that requires 3 semesters of business, and many students take advertising classes as electives. “They think about what’s in front of us and what’s ahead. I love the way the college interacts with the city. There’s networking and internships. It’s us as artists, and allows us to tailor what we’re doing to make a life and future.” The Dean of Admissions said, “More and more employers want ‘Creatives’ because things are changing so fast, they want new ideas.” They’re marketable.
My group spent an hour talking with one of the Creative Writing professors. Students “do everything here: play writing, memoirs, poetry, novels, short stories, non-fiction. Whatever they want to be, they’re going to do it well and rigorously.” There’s even a minor in Graphic Novel; they complete 2 Foundation courses (fiction and illustration), 1 trans-media class (how they work today in digital world), and 2 semesters in graphic novel.
With about 30 students in the Creative Writing program (they would like to grow this), students get intensive practice and personal feedback. They bring in professional, published writers every month to read their work, talk about the business side, run workshops, and even meet 1-on-1 with kids to give feedback. The Writing From the Senses class was happening while we were in the building; they had a drummer in (sound); other days, they bring in a chocolatier (taste), perfume (smell), etc to get kids to really delve into sensory descriptions.
A student came into the room as we were speaking to the professor. We asked him to sum up his experience: “I love writing here. Suggestions are relevant and it’s never boring. I’ve been stretched. I love Radical Revisions – you think on so many planes and in so many dimensions. It’s uncomfortable and challenging and great.”
All students in the major take Intro to Fiction, Intro to Poetry, either Memoir or Creative Non-Fiction, and a reading course, “not in the way they’re used to in High School. They’re looking to see how the author put it together.” Advanced workshops are required, and electives are varied, ranging from humor satire, writing the apocalypse, graphic novel, podcasts and audio narratives, and cinefiction (borrowing from film techniques). All students in the major have to be an editor on the journal: they have to create a website, put out a print version in the spring, curate it, and justify their decisions to include or not.
For parents who might be worried about their children majoring in creative writing, “tell them that employers are always looking for strong writers,” said a professor. They get professional writing preparation, and students often intern at magazines, blogs, and one is at Cambridge Writer’s Project. Most students go into editing, blogging, etc. Many will publish shorter works; “book deals don’t just happen.” Students who are go-getters who take advantage of everything at school have no trouble getting jobs. They go to events, take initiative, start radio shows, etc.
Of the 500 or so undergraduate students, most live on campus. Almost 40% of students come from outside NH (13% of which are from outside New England, including some international students). There are lots of clubs and other activities. The monthly “Slam Free or Die” poetry slam gets high reviews.
In terms of admissions, “Think of the application as introducing yourself to us. Talk about community involvement. Show off artwork. We’re looking for people with some technical expertise, but more importantly those who have ideas and want to share them.” Creative Writing applicants should submit something that shows their thought process and voice, in whatever form that comes in. Students are encouraged to go to a National Portfolio Day. They also suggest a summer program: “Do a deep dive into making art 24/7 to see what it’s really like.”