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MCAD goes global

The 125-year-old Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) is looking far over the horizon beyond its upper Midwest roots as the private college in the shadow of downtown looks to the future. 

In a multi-year effort to expand opportunities for international study and to attract more foreign students to its campus in the shadow of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, MCAD has embarked on an ambitious plan to create relationships with art schools in China, the Mideast, Brazil and Florence, Italy. It has also stepped up efforts to recruit students from China and India.

The target regions for MCAD’s international expansion were chosen because they each have “very distinctive cultures and represent growth areas economically that will be a partner and a competitor with the U.S. in one way or another,” Coogan said.

The first fruits of that effort will be visible in late July when approximately  20 students and faculty from the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou will arrive in the Twin cities to spend two weeks in a “street lab” program led by Piotr Szyhalski, MCAD professor of media arts. The summer program is designed to “immerse students in the life of the city,” said MCAD President Jay Coogan, who hopes that a contingent of MCAD students will travel to China the following summer.

Agreements with other schools
MCAD currently offers study-abroad options in Germany, Austria and England. So far, the private art school’s ties to China are the broadest among the new efforts. In addition to the students visiting this summer, MCAD has signed collaboration agreements with three other schools: the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, Luxun Academy of Fine Art and the Shanghai College of Art. This fall Coogan will deliver a lecture on the role of the arts in a liberal arts education at the United International College in Zhuhai near Hong Kong while three professors from China will visit MCAD. In addition, three MCAD alumni have artist residencies at the Shangyuan Art Museum.

The international push grew out of a strategic plan, recently approved by the college’s board of directors, that was developed by Coogan working with the board, alumni, students and faculty to envision  “what a college of art and design and an arts education experience should look like in the 21st century,” he said.

Coogan views art and design as a vehicle for communication and “sees the arts playing an ambassadorial role” across diverse cultures. “This is also a way of expanding opportunities for our students,” he said. “As they get exposed to different parts of the globe, they would have connections and,,,a place to work at the start of their career. “

Coogan, who became MCAD’s 16th president in 2009, came from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence. About one-fourth of the students at RISD come from abroad. While at RISD, Coogan  traveled to China several times over a decade, establishing relationships between RISD and several art schools that he was able to build on to partner with MCAD.

Extending the classroom
Coogan sees the international push as an extension of his effort to engage students with local nonprofits, corporations and governments in the world beyond MCAD, “actively working on problems and issues” in the community beyond the campus. “My ideal is that the whole of Minneapolis, the U.S. and the globe is an extension of their classroom.”

Last year Coogan was focused on keeping MCAD stable coming out of the recession, maintaining enrollment at about 700 undergraduates and 40 graduate students. The college was able to keep tuition flat in 2010 while raising it 3 percent this year to $30,385. Ninety percent of MCAD students receive some form of financial aid, Coogan said, and 25 percent of tuition was covered by scholarships and grants last year. The school also boasts that 77 percent of its graduates over the past five years have found work in their field of study.

Tighter availability of private student loans has created additional financial barriers for some students wanting to attend MCAD, he said. As a result, raising scholarship funds is a high priority “to ensure our success is based on attracting the best and brightest students we can,” he added.

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