At Large  July 8, 2020  Anna Claire Mauney

The 10 Best Art Schools in the Southeast

Created: Wed, 07/08/2020 - 16:38
Author: chandra

In today's world, professionals versed in art and design are in high demand, particularly those who can use their skills in both the fine arts and commercial worlds. Those looking to embark on a career in the arts have a huge range of options for their training and education. In a new series, Art & Object delves into the top art schools and programs in the U.S., beginning with the Southeast. From public universities with state-of-the-art studios to solely arts-focused colleges with flourishing overseas programs, this list runs the gamut. 

One thing the current pandemic has made clear, within the context of modern careers, is that flexibility and internet savvy are major keys to success. While many argue this has been the trend for some time, current events have certainly pushed things along. Artists who sell work online, who have graphic design skills, who know how to integrate important messages into their art—these individuals are still working and some may be busier than ever. As such, the majority of schools featured here place some degree of emphasis on interdisciplinary practice and education.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top art schools and university programs of the Southeast tend to be associated with regions known for other aspects of the broader arts and culture. Nashville, Tennessee has an incredible music and entertainment scene, Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia are both culturally rich and historically complex, and locations throughout Florida play a significant role in the animation and broader arts industry. While many schools listed still have a lot of room to grow in terms of diversity, others have taken unique steps to honor and include the Latino, Indigenous, and Black members of the student body, faculty, and community.

To determine its final rankings, Art & Object's editorial staff weighed the following factors: school reputation, tuition, cost of living, scholarship opportunities, fields of study, degrees offered, course diversity, faculty expertise, alumni reputation, student body diversity, student life in general, surrounding art scene, cultural opportunities, and post-graduation career help. While Art & Object has strived to craft a list in the most objective manner possible, we recognize that measures of "best" could include many other factors. With that said, here are the Art & Object selections of the best art schools in the Southeast. You can find our rankings for the Northeast, Midwest, Southwest, West, and our overall Top Ten here.

*Note: LGBTQ+ individuals may not always be accurately represented in gender data reported by institutions and organizations. 
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Emory University campus
10. Emory University

Emory University, of Atlanta, Georgia, has a 22 percent acceptance rate and tuition of roughly $51,000, making it the most exclusive and expensive school on this list. The University offers a good deal of financial aid as well as institutionally sourced merit and needs-based scholarships. Those from some of the lowest-income households often end up paying $13,730 for tuition, room, and board.

Emory emphasizes interdisciplinary studies and does not actually offer an exclusively Fine Arts major. Undergraduate students can major in Film and Media or Art History. They may also complete a concentration in Arts or Film and Media Management or they can opt for the Integrated Visual Arts Co-Major. This program involves the most art-making, offering courses in ten different types of media. 

Students can purchase an Arts Passport for $12 to get free access to a packed schedule of performances hosted on campus. The student body is 41.3 percent white and 41 percent male, making it the most comprehensively diverse school on this list.

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Brenau College campus
9. Brenau University

Tuition at Brenau University is approximately $28,510. Compared to other schools listed, it is moderately expensive for in-state and inexpensive for out-of-state, with moderate financial aid available. Students from the lowest income groups end up paying around $14,000 for tuition, room, and board. 

Brenau offers one arts BFA but students can choose one of five different concentrations. Brenau’s Center for the Arts and Design houses fashion and interior design programs in addition to fine art. This proximity is meant to encourage interdisciplinary development.

Notable alumni include award-winning sculptor Clyde Dixon Connell and commercially successful painter Sarah Lamb Larned.

The school is above average in terms of racial diversity, but it is the second to least diverse in terms of gender. Located in Gainesville, Georgia, which is touted as a lively yet small town, students have access to rich local history.

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rotunda building at the University of Virginia
8. University of Virginia

The University of Virginia’s (UVA) in-state tuition, $17,653, is below average but its out-of-state tuition, $49,032, makes it the second most expensive school in this list. However, once financial aid is applied, students from families in one of the lowest income brackets need only pay about half of the listed in-state fee to cover tuition, room, and board. 

Grants and fellowships are also widely available for Indigenous art students but UVA is one of the least diverse schools on our list. Fifty-five percent of undergrads are male, above the national average, and 60 percent of the student body is white.

Students who graduate from UVA tend to make around $35,000 which is nine to ten thousand more than the average fine arts graduate. While UVA only offers a single BFA, the courses available to students are unique and varied. UVA’s ArtLab program connects science and art students. 

The school is focused on fostering a sense of career-readiness, including connecting students with internship positions. A year-four art student, Uzo Njoku, has a best-selling coloring book, The Bluestocking Society

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montgomery hall at florida state university
7. Florida State University

Florida State University (FSU) tuition is about $5,656 in-state and $18,786 out-of-state, making it the most affordable school on this list. In 2019, FSU launched its own scholarship search engine and application tool, though most of the Fine Arts opportunities currently listed are allocated for dance majors.

FSU offers two undergraduate degrees in Fine Arts and training in twelve different artistic practices including printmaking and mechatronic art. About 85 percent of FSU faculty are full time, two times the national average. 

Located in the state capitol, Tallahassee, art and cultural opportunities are numerous. The city has a vibrant and active arts council.

FSU’s student body is 44 percent male and 62 percent white. Of the schools listed, the university comes in first for gender and third for racial diversity. It should be noted that the school’s symbol—the Seminoles—has been continually and officially supported by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

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6. Belmont University

Tuition at Belmont University is about $32,820. The Leu Scholarship, which doles out $2,000 a year, is merit-based and any art students may submit a portfolio to apply.

Belmont offers a BFA in Studio Art through the O’More College of Architecture, Art, and Design, with training available across seven different mediums. Students may also minor in photography or painting. 

Strong emphasis is placed on preparing students for careers or graduate school applications. This focus is woven into the curriculum with an emphasis on student-advisor relationships providing close guidance for education and career paths.

Located in Nashville, the university offers countless entertainment experiences and opportunities to collaborate. Music and Business majors are the most likely to minor in studio art or design.

Belmont is the least racially diverse school on our list but ranks in the top three for gender diversity.

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5. University of Florida

Tuition at the University of Florida (UF) is about $6,381 in-state and $28,659 out-of-state. It is the second most affordable school listed. While scholarships exist for art students, the amounts are relatively low, often between $500 and $1000.

The University Arts College features programs in visual arts, music, theater, arts in medicine, and digital worlds. Within the visual arts realm, undergrads can major in Graphic Design or Studio Art with a chosen emphasis in one of seven categories from Ceramics to Art and Technology.

Nan Keeton, the current deputy director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, received a BA in Fine Arts and Business from UF. The school’s art museum holds an 8,000 item collection and hosts rotating exhibitions. Hosting a world-class roster of public performances is also certain to spark creativity and enrich campus culture. 

The University of Florida is the most racially diverse school listed here. In 2018, undergraduates were 40 percent Hispanic or Latino and 38.6 percent white.

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a long modern brick building at Virginia Commonwealth University
4. Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) tuition is about $14,493 in-state and $35,834 out-of-state. Nearly two of three incoming first-year students are offered a scholarship and all art school applicants are considered for two additional scholarships.

VCU’s School of the Arts is one of the top public facilities in the nation with assets like a state of the art foundry and metal fabrication shop. Genius Grant winners and Alumni of the school’s MFA program Tara Donovan and Teresita Fernández both work with the kind of heavy-duty industrial materials that this kind of shop makes accessible to students.

Surrounded by the vibrant art, music, and theater scene of Richmond, VCU’s arts program is similarly well-rounded, touting eighteen undergraduate degrees that range from Kinetic Imaging to Painting and Printmaking. 

The school’s Institute for Contemporary Art hosts a constant rotation of exhibitions and programs intended to connect the school, community, and contemporary professionals.

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3. George Washington University 

With an average tuition of $31,000, George Washington University (GW) ranks as moderately expensive compared to other schools in both in-state and out-of-state categories. 

In addition to the standard Fine Arts and Photography BFAs, GW’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design offers a BFA in Interaction Design which focuses on the intersections between technology, design, and human progress. 

Their list of notable alumni dates back to the late 1890s, with artists like James Doughtery, a modernist painter who wrote and illustrated the Newbery Medal-winning, Daniel Boone. Avi Gupta, ‘04 alumnus and part-time professor, works as the Director of Photography for U.S. News & Global Report

The Arts and Design Living Learning Community has a similar focus on the impact these practices can have on daily life and community. Because of its location in the middle of Washington, D.C., GW boasts an inordinate amount of museums and culture. GW ranks in the bottom three of our list for racial diversity but in the top three for gender. In 2018, students were 69.8 percent white and 40.4 percent male.

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2. Ringling College of Art and Design

Tuition at Ringling is approximately $44,560. It is the third most expensive school listed. Financial aid is not as easy to come by here as it is at the other schools. Even students from the lowest income bracket end up paying an average of $43,592 for tuition, room, and board. Graduates make about $33,200, just below average for the schools listed. 

Located in beachy Sarasota, Florida, the surrounding town offers a wide selection of performance venues and a village of historic theaters. Students also have access to the beautiful John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, above.

The school offers eleven  BFA and two BA programs, all of which dedicate a third of their curriculum requirements to liberal arts courses. Ringling places a strong emphasis on story-telling, even in its Fine Arts BFA program. 

Alumni and student interns populate big companies like EA and Disney. One of Ringling’s most noteworthy graduates is Brandon Oldenburg, an Oscar and Emmy-winner. Various other alumni are currently employed as top creatives for companies including Google and MTV.

While more racially diverse than most other schools listed, Ringling is just slightly above average in terms of gender diversity.

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1. Savannah College of Art and Design

With a tuition of $37,130, SCAD ranks as the third most expensive school when compared to in-state prices. Graduates make approximately $36,400 which is higher than average, and the second highest of the schools listed. 

Notable alumni include painter José Parlá, Academy Award-winning special effects artist Mir Zafar Ali, and M. Alice LeGrow, the cartoonist behind the successful gothic graphic novel series, Bizenghast.

SCAD offers forty-two different art and design programs and seventy minors and certificate programs. Though overall much more commercially minded than many arts schools, the school has fine arts programs and focuses. Students can earn BFAs in anything from textiles to sequential art to sculpture.

The school has two locations outside of Savannah—Atlanta and Lacoste, France. Most programs provide opportunities to study on these other campuses. 

Every year SCAD hosts the deFINE Art Festival in its Savannah and Atlanta locations, which brings lecturers and artists to town and in contact with students. While the city of Savannah is incredibly diverse, SCAD ranks below average with a student body that is 54.4 percent white and 33.4 percent male.