At Large  August 25, 2021  Art & Object Staff

The 5 Best Art Schools in the Southeast

Created: Wed, 08/25/2021 - 09:00
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 this series, Art & Object delves back into the top art schools and programs of the U.S. 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 last year or so has made abundantly 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 continued to work, teach, and learn through lockdowns. Some were even busier than ever.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top art schools and university programs of the American Southeast tend to be associated with regions known for other aspects of the broader arts and culture worlds. Nashville, Tennessee has an incredible music and entertainment scene, Georgia's Atlanta and Savannah are both culturally rich and historically complex, and locations throughout Florida play a significant role in the animation and wider 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: degree and curriculum variety, quality of school museums, school renown, tuition cost (undergraduate, graduate, etc. if applicable), employment rate, graduation rate, internship opportunities, student body diversity*, surrounding art scene, cultural opportunities, and student statements. 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, Southwest, Midwest, and West here.

*Editor’s Note: LGBTQ+ individuals may not always be accurately represented in gender data reported by institutions and organizations.
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wikimedia commons
corcoran gallery and school of art building
5. George Washington University 

 

George Washington University (GW) was founded in 1878. Its Corcoran School of the Arts and Design was established in 1869 but was not acquired by GW until 2014. Within the undergrad and graduate programs, Corcoran offers twenty-two degrees. In the undergraduate program, this includes a dual major and minor in Fine Arts and Art History. The Fine Arts programs offer instruction across a range of art practices including sculpture, ceramics, photography, video, painting, drawing, printmaking, book arts, performance, socially engaged practices, and new media. Corcoran is also home to twelve studios, all located in the Flagg Building.

Currently, undergraduate tuition at GW sits at $59,780. It is by far the most expensive school on this list. According to the most recent data available, GW University as a whole reports an 80 percent employment rate within ninety days of graduation. Their ledger of notable arts 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—and also includes modern names like Tim Gunn.

Located four blocks from the White House, the University’s programs at Corcoran School are often designed and tweaked to take advantage of opportunities provided by the surrounding area. For example, students currently enrolled in Corcoran's Interaction Design program will work with the American Folklife Center—a research center established by the Library of Congress—to problem solve real-time issues of accessibility and ease of use alongside professionals.

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flickr/deldevries
a tree in bright orange and red fall foliage in front of a mansion
4. Belmont University

 

Belmont University’s Watkins College of Art, located in Nashville, Tennessee, places a good deal of emphasis on career readiness. All BFA majors in the art program are required to participate in an internship or as a student teacher and 72 percent of Belmont students at the university level complete an internship. According to a University representative, "Nashville generally has more internship opportunities than we have students to fill them with." On top of that, the arts program has—according to student-reported data—a 100 percent rate of employment within six months of graduation. This statistic is deeply impressive and should be encouraging to any prospective students. 

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

Undergraduate tuition at Belmont is currently $38,430. Compared to other schools listed, this is a moderate fee. However, early this year, the University established the Watkins College of Art at Belmont Scholarship Endowment which they hope will eventually produce $800,000 annually. This money is and will be used exclusively to provide need and merit-based scholarships for visual arts students. Already, it is one of the largest endowed scholarships for the arts in the nation.

Since 2017, Belmont has produced annual Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Reports that log the institutional efforts made each year to heighten and expand diversity programming. This shows an important degree of openness and forethought that many institutions, academic or otherwise, often lack.

The University's location offers countless extracurricular entertainment experiences as well as professional opportunities to get involved in the locally robust industries of music, entertainment, technology, and healthcare.

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wikimedia commons/Jeff Auth
a long modern brick building at Virginia Commonwealth University
3. Virginia Commonwealth University

 

Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is home to one of the top public art programs in the nation. VCU’s School of the Arts offers eighteen undergraduate and five graduate degrees. The school's programs span a wide range of disciplines and features departments including but not limited to Craft/Material Studies—which boasts majors that span from glassmaking to furniture design—and Kinetic Imaging—which covers mediums like animation and sound.

Undergraduate tuition is currently $14,710 for Virginia residents and $36,048 for non-residents. Compared to other schools listed, VCU is the most affordable school for residents and is moderately priced for all other prospective students. According to reports of the University at large, within 6 months of graduation, 74 percent of former students are either employed or enrolled in graduate school.

The arts program boasts 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 shop makes accessible to students.

As a research University, interdisciplinary opportunities abound on VCU's campus. The da Vinci Center for Innovation was established to make a space for and encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration via a unique collegiate model. The University has also established many institutional programs designed to promote diversity such as Special Interest Institutes and Centers (SIICs) which specifically do so via research, education, advocacy, and community partnerships.

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Courtesy Ringling.
 Alfred R. Goldstein Library on Ringling's campus.
2. Ringling College of Art and Design

 

The school offers two BA programs—in Business of Art and Design, Visual Studies—and eleven BFA programs—in Computer Animation, Creative Writing, Entertainment Design, Film, Fine Arts, Game Art, Graphic Design, Illustration, Motion Design, Photography and Imaging, and Virtual Reality Development. That last program is the world's first of its kind.

In the words of current student, Joseph Janssen, Virtual Reality Development BFA, Class of 2022: "Ringling has provided incredible opportunities for personal growth and they’ve helped me build a professional network of clients. While working on the client-based project with the Moffitt Cancer Center, I worked alongside doctors and researchers in the field. Opportunities like this provide the perfect exposure to a professional, real-world setting and delivering a final product to a client on time, and on budget."

All Ringling programs dedicate a third of their curriculum requirements to liberal arts courses and the school places a strong emphasis on story-telling, even in its Fine Arts program. Its Animation, Game Design, and Illustration programs are consistently awarded and highly ranked by various outlets.

Undergraduate tuition at Ringling is approximately $45,000, making it the second most expensive school on this list. According to surveys conducted by the school, approximately 75 percent of Ringling graduates find employment within the first six months of graduation. The school shared that its current, annual operating budget sits at $87 million and that 68 percent of it is funded by tuition and fees. Ringling’s candor on the matter shows a unique degree of openness.

Ringling College students hail from fifty-five countries, forty-five states, and five commonwealths and territories. While numerical percentages of diversity were not offered, Ringling expresses a commitment to fostering diversity and places an emphasis on community and comfort. A Ringling states, “Every member of our community adds to who we are: a dedicated, curious, quirky, and talented blend of creatives. We are relentless in our pursuit of brilliance and uncompromising in our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

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Courtesy SCAD. Photography by Chia Chong.
SCAD's Adler Hall on the Savannah River. Graphic design, advertising, photography, and film and television share the building.
1. Savannah College of Art and Design

 

The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers more programs and specializations than any other art and design university in the U.S., with forty undergraduate, and sixty-one graduate degree programs. In the words of current student Shan W., Painting BFA, Class of 2022: “I love the resources that are available to students. I am able to explore mediums and concepts I did not even consider before. SCAD has made so many opportunities available to me. A main reason I learned about and was prepared for my current internship (Smithsonian Institute) is the connections I am able to make with faculty and visiting mentors. The time I’ve spent at SCAD has really reinforced my value of community!”

Programs offered by the school are constantly evolving to keep up with the natural progression that occurs in the working world. SCAD’s Animation program has been consistently awarded and highly ranked by various outlets over the years.

With undergraduate tuition at $37,575 and graduate tuition around $38,475, SCAD is moderately priced compared to the other schools listed. According to SCAD, 99 percent of Spring 2020 alumni were employed, pursuing higher education, or both within ten months of graduation. This statistic is remarkably high, especially given the year in which it was recorded and its accompanying time frame. SCAD has also shared that its approved budget for FY22 includes $292 million in operating expenses. The scope of the budget is just as remarkable as the range of courses offered by the school. And again, SCAD’s candor on the matter shows a unique degree of openness.

Every year the school hosts a wide range of SCAD Signature Events that offer opportunities for students in every program, from gaming to fashion and beyond. The art-fair style events SCAD deFINE ART and SCAD AT MIAMI spotlight established and emerging artists while showcasing contemporary art, design innovation, and performance. And the SCAD Savannah Film Festival—the largest university-run film festival in the world—has screened over 100 Oscar-nominated films.