AU Creates, Debuts Bachelor of Fine Arts Program

CVA atrium art installation

The "FRESH" art installation by alumni Erin Murtha and Anh Ta in the Center for Visual Arts atrium.

Students who are serious about their professional future in the arts now have a new, creative option to pursue. Earlier this year, Augustana University announced a new Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), effective this academic year. The BFA prepares students for a serious professional degree in the visual arts and builds on Augustana’s strong reputation of art curriculum. It is expected that many students obtaining this professional degree will continue their education with a Master of Fine Arts.

“We have a fabulous track record of liberal arts students going on to be studio artists, but we see the student choosing the BFA as the student who wants to fast-track professional opportunities such as going on to a master of fine arts, and it will be the track for students who want to leave with a deeper portfolio,” said art department chair Lindsay Twa. Similar to Augustana’s existing bachelor of arts program, candidates will select at least one emphasis area from the seven offered: ceramics, drawing, graphic design, painting, photography, printmaking or sculpture.

Courses specific to the major will be available for current and future students starting this fall. The first cohort of majors will graduate in spring 2021. With a thriving bachelor’s degree in arts, many current students have already taken some of the required courses with faculty such as John Peters, Scott Parsons, Gerry Punt, Anna Reich, Tom Shields and Twa.

For more than 30 years, the art department has been offering the 53-60 credit hour “pre-professional” track in art as an equivalent to a BFA. The term “pre-professional art” major, however, does not have the same industry recognition as the BFA. “Our graduates must offer additional explanations on their resumes to signal how their degree is professionally equivalent,” said Twa. “So, it’s been a longtime dream to offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts,” Twa said. “And the opportunity truly felt right when we became Augustana University. We’re fully embracing our liberal arts roots, but as we now offer many more graduate and professional programs in nursing and education, for example, it seemed like the moment was right to launch this professional art degree program.”

The program is both intersecting and tailored, she added, so students will be exposed to a broad-based liberal arts education in their first two years and can apply to the Bachelor of Fine Arts program during their sophomore year. Kiel Mutschelknaus ’07 is a full-time faculty member at the Maryland Institute College of Art in the graphic design department and has his own active freelance studio. He reflects fondly on the unique education he received at Augustana. “The most important thing the Augie art department provided me was a desire to constantly learn and explore,” he writes. “In a field like graphic design where the tools and landscape are changing and evolving constantly, I've found that to be incredibly important. Perpetual learning continues to be the foundation of my studio and teaching practice. And having a liberal arts experience alongside my B.A. helped round everything out.”

“Augustana is committed to fostering great thinkers and innovative problem-solvers,” said Dr. Colin Irvine, dean of the university and senior vice president for academic affairs. Students will also take a professional practices class in their senior year to help them learn the business side of being an artist and prepare them to apply for grants or enter graduate school.

Augustana’s other bachelor of arts tracks within the art department prepare students for careers in art education, architecture and other art-related fields such as art therapy while allowing them to double major.

The BFA will include a heavier emphasis on time in the studio and is “a true commitment on the part of the student and their mentors," Twa said. “Students will go through a portfolio review before being invited into the BFA track. Not every student will or should do such a heavily weighted degree, but there is growing interest and a growing notion that in creative industries, people with a BFA can plug into a wide range of creative businesses where that extra depth will serve them.”

Mutschelknaus says his education was top-notch at Augustana but having the BFA will raise the bar even higher for students when it comes time to find a job. “The accreditation and classroom experience that accompany a BFA will only provide students a more thorough education, a more immersive experience, and help provide an edge post-graduation,” he says.

Augustana students also enjoy some of the best art-focused facilities in the region and extensive access to internships, apprenticeships and exhibition opportunities, Twa says. “All of our art students have multiple exhibition opportunities throughout their career. It’s a key cornerstone to having a professional degree, with portfolio reviews every spring and the opportunities to do a professional summer exhibit. Our seniors will have a month-long exhibition leading up to graduation.”

Augustana’s Eide/Dalrymple Gallery, located in the Center for Visual Arts, provides an outstanding venue for students’ work, and the university connects its student artists with other exhibition opportunities at the Washington Pavilion, 8th & Railroad Center and the growing number of commercial galleries in Sioux Falls.

“We have phenomenal facilities for an undergraduate institution of our size,” Twa said. “It is jaw-dropping the quality of our spaces, both exhibition opportunities and the spaces where students get to work.”

“I think everyone, students and faculty, is excited about this new addition to our art program,” Twa said. “It’s been a dream for many years, and now for those who want that true, professional degree, we’re able to offer it.”

Mutschelknaus agrees with Twa on that statement. “While I've loved the history and tradition at Augustana — having drawing class in the Barracks with the immortal Carl Grupp — I'm more excited about its future. It's great to see the department evolving and moving forward.”

“The accreditation and classroom experience that accompany a BFA will only provide students a more thorough education, a more immersive experience, and help provide an edge post-graduation ..."  — Kiel Mutschelknaus ’07