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MFA in Applied Craft and Design

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  • Course description
    Connecting design thinking to design doing, this unique MFA Program is grounded in hands-on making, entrepreneurial strategies, and social and environmental engagement.
    Featuring a mentor-based approach, students work one-on-one with nationally and internationally recognized designers, makers, and scholars in a self-directed curriculum that challenges them to bring to life the full strength of their ideas and skills.

    Encouraging a cross-disciplinary studio environment in which the workshop is a lab to collaboratively explore design and making processes, the Program welcomes students from a wide range of creative backgrounds to make original work with an applied purpose.

    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.

    Areas of Study

    Studio Practice (18 credits)

    With students’ individual spaces located in a workshop environment, this Program embraces an approach to design rooted in the culture of making, and emphasizes learning from materials to ground concepts.
    A central feature of the studio experience is the one-on-one interaction with a mentor selected by the student and Program Chair. The mentor-student relationship is personal and unique, and is at the heart of the MFA in Applied Craft and Design Program. The mentor acts as advocate, critic, resource, and colleague for the student, providing a supportive setting to pursue self-designed, independent investigation and experimentation.
    The mentor meets with the student for approximately 1.5 hours per week, guiding the student in his/her explorations, discussing the student’s goals, and fostering an awareness of social, environmental and ethical concerns and responsibilities in the student’s creative practice. Mentors are selected from a group of accomplished artists, designers, makers, and faculty. The Program will connect the student with a mentor whose expertise is directly relevant to the student’s focus.

    Critique Seminar (12 credits)

    Through Seminar, students engage in thorough, critical analysis of work-in-progress, benefiting from in-depth exposure to the wide variety of disciplines represented in the program. This course, led by the Program Chair, includes group critiques with guest critics, studio and design firm visits, workshops, and one-on-one dialogue with leading contemporary practitioners and theorists through the Program’s Visiting Artists Series.
    Emphasis is placed on cultivating the synergistic relationship between the act of making and designing, as well as on seeking opportunities for cross-pollination between disciplines. Students working with metal, for instance, are encouraged to look for possibilities to incorporate or adapt conceptual and technical approaches of students working with wood, ceramics, or fibers, etc.
    In Seminar students explore issues and topics such as: the relationship of identity and status to material processes; the impact of knowledge-based social policy on craft culture; the concept of gesamtkunstwerk in contemporary society; and the potential for integration of the hand-made into computer based, menu-driven design assemblies.

    Practicum (9 credits)

    The Practicum is similar to a Thesis, but emphasizes practical application of knowledge or skill in a new way, through an independent project approved by the student’s committee.
    The main thrust of the Practicum is to create work through engagement with a specific community, client, or user, and with an emphasis on addressing social and environmental concerns. The type and scale of projects students pursue for the Practicum ranges widely, but is centrally informed by the act of making.
    The Practicum is intended to be an externalized expression of the work produced in Studio Practice, and requires a capstone paper. In preparing the rationale for their proposal, students pursue rigorous methods of applied research, as well as utilizing strategies to identify and interact with various stakeholders. Students present reports of their progress to their committee at preliminary and intermediate stages. Upon completion, the Practicum culminates in a formal public presentation.

    Entrepreneurial Studies (6 credits)

    The Entrepreneurial Studies component of the Program provides a comprehensive introduction to establishing and maintaining a creative professional practice, with an emphasis on strategies for small to mid-size businesses.
    Courses are structured as a series of modules, each taught by a different instructor specializing in the subject matter specific to the module.
    In order to prepare students to develop businesses that represent their own values and the intentions behind their work, students explore issues such as: connecting community through commerce; designing in the context of increasing demand and decreasing resources; and methods of giving voice to under-represented creatives.
    In conjunction with exploring how businesses can effectively express values and address important issues, students become familiar with fundamental aspects of professional practice. Students develop an understanding of business plans, contracts, business development, marketing, basic accounting, intellectual property, promotion, grant-writing, social entrepreneurship, micro-enterprises, and collaborative ventures.
    Students also learn to use entrepreneurial software, develop several “elevator pitch” presentations, and - in support of the Program’s philosophy of engagement - participate in service learning as part of a section on social entrepreneurship.

    Critical Studies (9 credits)

    Critical Studies courses challenge students to develop in-depth knowledge of social and environmental movements in Modern craft and design history, articulate positions in discussions concerning contemporary craft and design theory, and place current trends in making into a global context.
    Studies in modern craft and design history emphasize a careful engagement with key individuals and movements rather than a comprehensive survey. Students focus not only on the history of these fields, but on the critical discussion of the scholarship that frames them.
    In becoming fluent in contemporary theory, students investigate the DIY movement, concepts such as valorization of the hand, and the shifting boundaries and relationships between fine art, craft, and design.
    Examining the transformation of craft traditions and adaptive reuse of materials in craft and design globally - and in developing countries in particular - students explore notions of individual and collective identity.
    In support of the Program’s emphasis on applied knowledge, students are required to submit research papers to peer-reviewed journals or conferences in each of the three Critical Studies courses.

    Electives (6 credits)

    Elective courses allow students to hone techniques in making, expand upon their projects in Studio Practice or Practicum, participate in internships, global studios, or further pursue courses in history, theory, and criticism. Students can choose from existing upper-level studio and academic courses at both OCAC and PNCA.

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