Special Report: How Did You Spend Your Summer Vacation?

By Jill Waterman

A LIFE IN THE ARTS: From life in an actual dorm to a fashion set in the photo studio to an exhibit of finished artwork on gallery walls, Montserrat’s Pre-College program is an emmersive experience.

Montserrat College of Art, Beverly, Massachusetts
Foundations in Art Making and Digital Photography Experience

SHOW AND TELL: On the last day of Montserrat's Pre-College program, students get to display their works for friends and family in a group exhibit in the school's gallery space.

For three weeks during the month of July, the suburban New England campus at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts, comes alive with high school juniors and seniors from around New England and as far away as Florida and the West Coast. In just over ten years, Montserrat’s Pre-College program has become an important element in the school’s outreach, encouraging the foundations of artistic talent while also attracting prospective students to consider Montserrat as their future alma mater.

“It’s a college-recruiting tool, obviously. We use this as an opportunity to test the waters and to let students see if this is a school they want to attend,” explains Kathleen Burke, Montserrat’s director of continuing education. “But it’s also a place for kids seriously thinking about art school to come in and be with other students just like them. And the parents like it because it can save them money,” she adds. “It helps to avoid a kid enrolling in art school and saying ‘That’s not what I want’ after that first semester. So it really is a good investment.”

According to the chair of Montserrat’s photography department, Ron DiRito, in addition to offering the foundations of art making, another important goal of the Pre-College program is to introduce students to the concept of being away from home. About 90 percent of Montserrat’s Pre-College students spend the three weeks living on campus,  although the program is also open to commuters.

“The other goal is to help students  create a portfolio so that when they do apply to college, their portfolio is ready with the strongest work,” DiRito adds.

Students take a basic foundation drawing class from 9 am to noon Mondays through Fridays, then choose two electives—digital photography, computer art and design, painting, printmaking,  illustration or three-dimensional design—to study in the afternoons, one on Mondays/Wednesdays and the other on Tuesdays/Thursdays, with alternating subjects on Fridays.

“Classroom size is kept to around a dozen students, so the classes are small,” says Burke. “We really try to place kids in what they’re focused on. Digital photography is a popular offering, 21 of the 60 students enrolled this summer chose photography as an elective, so I’ve got two classes running,” she adds.

While the school does maintain a wet darkroom for college students, Montserrat concentrates their Pre-College offerings on digital imaging, with a main focus on learning how to see.

During the three-week session, students get 24 hours of instruction per elective plus open studios and homework assignments. Then, on the last day of the program, students hang their work in a gallery exhibition.

“The parents come, and we have a little celebration, so they get the full effect. It’s a really good taste of college life,” says Burke. “Most of these kids maybe do an hour of art in high school, and here they’re getting six hours of teaching time a day, plus open studios, so it’s a big change for them,” she notes. “Getting used to criticizing or talking about their work is something else they don’t get in high school.”

Burke explains that the Pre-College program is most popular for high school juniors, who are getting ready to apply to college, while seniors tend to sign up if they need to augment their portfolio. In all cases, students earn three college credits for completing the program, which adds to the economic advantage.

Montserrat also offers limited merit- and need-based scholarships for the Pre-College program. Applicants have to submit a letter of intent, five portfolio pieces and the parents’ tax returns. “I think we gave out 19 scholarships this year, with varying dollar amounts based on need,” says Burke, “so anyone interested in that applied early.”

Vital Statistics:

Web site: www.montserrat.edu

Credits/Degrees: Pre-College program offers three college credits to high school students. Undergraduate program offers a bachelor of fine arts within nine major concentrations.

Details of Pre-college Program: Three-week residential (or commuting) program for high school juniors and seniors during the month of July, offering intensive foundation in drawing plus two electives (including digital photography and five other subjects).

Regular Student Population: Approximately 350 undergraduates, 30 to 35 concentrating in photography.

Tuition (2010): Pre-College program: $35 application fee, $2,250 tuition and fees, $750 on-campus housing. Limited scholarships are available.

Regular Undergraduate Program: Estimated total annual tuition, $33,826 (includes housing and health insurance). Part-time students, $995 per credit. 


Cranbrook Summer Art Institute, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
European Ambience in the Heart of the Upper Midwest

ART MAKING MELTING POT: Teens attend Cranbrook’s Summer Art Institute from near and far and they have access to the same equipment, darkrooms and photo studios used by master’s candidates during the school year.

“This is one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. It has an influence on you,” says Christopher Schneider, director of Cranbrook’s Summer Art Institute. “The Arts and Crafts style campus was designed by noted architect Eliel Saarinen, and there are gardens, nature trails, woods and art all around. Everything here is designed, even the streetlights.”    

Founded in the early 20th century and now a national historic landmark, Cranbrook includes, during the academic year, a K-12 school with three  levels, plus graduate studies in art, architecture and design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

The Summer Art Institute debuted in 2004, with Schneider (a Cranbrook MFA photography graduate) at the helm. Three-week programs are offered in three sessions from late June through late August. Over the past six years, the enrollment has grown from about 35 students to the recent high of 170. While most hail from southeast Michigan, there are also many from outside the area.

“We started the Summer Art Institute to allow students from around here to benefit from what Cranbrook offers,” Schneider explains, “but we found that students from all over the world wanted to come, so we decided to add the boarding component. This year, we have students from seven countries and 18 states.”

Classes are held within the Academy of Art’s graduate school facilities, affording teens the use of the same   studios, darkrooms and computers occupied by master’s candidates during the school year. Students select one class per session from 21 different offerings, most taught by Cranbrook MFA candidates.

One distinction of Cranbrook’s Summer Institute is the acceptance of middle school students as young as 13. Class sizes are small—between 12 and 16 students per class—so there is a great deal of individual attention. This intimate size can easily accommodate different ability levels, so Schneider prefers not to assign skill requirements, especially since young students catch on very quickly.

Because Cranbrook does not have an undergraduate program, the Summer Art Institute is not equipped to offer college credits. Yet, what it can offer—in addition to a great learning experience—is the school’s reputation. As Schneider explains, “We get students who are either very curious about a subject or very serious about it and intend to go to the best possible art school. They know having Cranbrook on their résumé will do them a lot of good.”

Financial aid is available, and about one-third of the students receive some kind of scholarship, Schneider notes. “There are three Detroit high schools with particularly strong art programs, so we designate scholarships specifically for those schools, but we also have open application scholarships for any student.”

Outside scholarship guidelines, the program doesn’t have admissions requirements or portfolio reviews for prospective students. “I know how much pressure these students are under already,” Schneider explains. “Many schools do not have an adequate art program, so I don’t think it’s fair to base admission on past performance. If a student is willing to attend an intensive art program like mine for three weeks in the summer, then they have the interest level I want.”

The interest level among Cranbrook’s summer students is so high that many teens attend two or more sessions and, according to Schneider, approximately 20 percent return to the program from one summer to the next. “I love seeing the development from year to year,” he says. “It’s important to me to really get to know the kids, not just shuffle them in and out. I do the Facebook page, I visit high schools, I try to keep in touch with them and make them feel like they’re part of things.”

Summer Institute class offerings are wide ranging—Art for the Undecided, Comic Art, Fashion and Function, Digital Photography, Darkroom Photography, to name a few. Schneider is definitive about the value of the darkroom to his curriculum. “I feel like knowing the fundamentals of photography is taught best in the darkroom,” he explains. “I can tell the difference in students who know the darkroom versus those who only know digital. Darkroom processes force students to understand the camera, composition, tonality and a lot of things that separate an amateur from a professional.”

Vital Statistics:

Web site(s): www.CranbrookSummerArt.org, www.cranbrook.edu

Credits/Degrees: Cranbrook Summer Art Institute is not equipped to offer college credits. School year academic programs include a K-12 program with distinct lower, middle and upper schools. Graduate level studies award a master of fine arts degree within nine concentrations or a master of architecture degree.

Details of Summer Art Institute: Three-week programs for students from 13 to 18 years old offered in three sessions from late June through late August. Both commuting and residential options are available. Students select one class per session from a total of 21 offerings.

Regular student population: Approximately 160 graduate students, 16 majoring in photography. Approximately 1,680 students in the kindergarten through 12th-grade program.

Tuition (2010): Summer Art Institute: $995 for one session, $2,685 for all three. $3,500 combined tuition and boarding per session. Partial, full-need and merit-based scholarships available for qualified applicants.

Academic Year Programs: Graduate program: tuition and fees, $28,545; meals and housing, $7,200, plus personal expenses. Grades 9–12 (boarding): $36,450, grades 9 through 12 (day): $26,450, grades 6 through 8: $23,150, grades 1 through 5: $21,600, half-to-full day kindergarten: $6,200 to 18,600.

PreCollege Perspective Offers an Authentic College Experience


TECH TIPS: Photo department faculty member Phillippe Diederich takes a student back to basics by putting the camera on manual and offering instruction in how to work the autofocus. 


In sunny Sarasota, Florida, the PreCollege Perspective program at Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) has offered high school juniors and seniors a four-week residential learning experience since 1991.

“Students are provided with an authentic college experience,” explains Nancee Clark, director of continuing studies and special programs. “They live and eat on campus, study with degree-program faculty and interact with a staff of 26 upper-class RCAD students who are program mentors and role models.”

Half of the upper-class students work alongside the instructors in classrooms, open studios and labs, and the other half live with the teens as resident assistants in the dorms. With a student-to-staff ratio of about three to one, Clark notes that connections often form between the students and instructors or staff members.“They always bond, and they keep up communication,” she says. “The same is true with the PreCollege peers who form ongoing, long-term relationships.”

This summer’s 128 PreCollege students came to RCAD from 10 countries and 29 states, including Puerto Rico. According to Clark, many of the students are already familiar with the college through word of mouth or the school’s Web site. “We have a near 50 percent matriculation to the undergraduate program from these students each fall,” she explains.

The curriculum is similar to first year art school foundation studies, including subjects such as figure drawing, a liberal arts/art history class, 2D and 3D design and studio drawing. Two additional elective workshops—selected from photography, computer animation, game art, digital film, painting, sculpture, illustration, graphic design and so on—reflect RCAD degree program majors.  

“Students also have ongoing critiques, a portfolio session, time management session and an admissions session,” says Clark. “These foundation skills would be beneficial wherever a student ends up. And they earn three college credits, which can be used here or they can approach another institution about transferring them.”

“In a basic way, instructors just get out there and get students to fall in love with picture making,” explains Thomas Carabasi, head of RCAD’s photography and digital imaging department. “There’s a lot of emphasis on shooting to start with, then the image processing comes later.”

RCAD faculty member Phillippe Diederich has taught the PreCollege photography classes for the past two years, working this summer with a group of 16 girls. “The kids have a lot of work, but there’s also a sort of relaxed feel because evaluations are either successful or unsuccessful,” he explains. “Not having grade point pressure is really helpful.”

Since the students are minors, group excursions involve liability issues, so the shooting sessions take place mainly on school grounds. “We have a big campus, so I get them to shoot in many different areas,” Diederich says. “There’s a waterfront section a few blocks from the school, so we walk there and take pictures as well.

He starts the class by taking things back to basics. “The first week is troubleshooting cameras and getting a grip on exposures. I have them all put their cameras on manual and teach them how to work the autofocus,” he notes. Diederich mentions the quality issues that can result from the students’ mix of eagerness and unfamiliarity, errors such as forgetting to shift from jpg to raw or not adjusting the ISO when moving outside from a darkened room. “I tell them that if they simplify everything by shooting manual and streamlining, the chance of making mistakes is going to be less.” 

Students generally fall into two camps, Diederich says. “Some are really advanced and into it, and others are just, ‘Well, I’m just not sure what I want to do, so I thought I’d take this.’”

Another distinction revolves around the students’ experience level with Photoshop. “I don’t want them to manipulate the pictures, so they can get the idea of how they’re processing an actual negative, if you will, via raw,” he says. “I don’t want them to get really tricky, because it will have an amateurish look,” Diederich adds. “By the second or third week, I go around and critique with each student. I try to see how they’re viewing and what their strengths are to reinforce that, and I point out the things they should work on too.”

Vital Statistics:

Web site: www.ringling.edu

Credits/Degrees: Pre-College Perspective offers three elective college credits to first-time students. Undergraduate program offers a bachelor of fine arts degree within 14 disciplines.

Details of Pre-College Perspctive: Intensive four-week curriculum during June and July for students 16 to 18 years of age, offering five foundation studies classes that mirror the first year experience in an art college. Workshop electives offer insight into specific areas of interest, to provide an opportunity to explore a new medium or affirm the choice of a college major.

Regular Student Population: Approximately 1,320 undergraduates total, approximately 110 photo majors.

Tuition (2010): Pre-College Perspective: Total program cost: $4,526. Scholarship funding available for a limited number of need-based grants.

Regular Undergraduate Program: Estimated total annual tuition $33,826, (includes housing and health insurance). Part-time students, $995 per credit.




PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



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