A Visit to MICA’s National Portfolio Day by Anna Fine Foer

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“National Portfolio Day is an opportunity to meet the representatives from more than 50 of the nations leading art colleges and universities,” says the statement on MICA’s website.

I went to art school (PCA aka U Arts) in the late seventies and also worked later as a technician for four years at MICA, but had never experienced portfolio day. I was curious to see how this all worked.

When I was applying to college it was simple. I only applied to two art schools: Kansas City Art Institute and Philadelphia College of Art. I was interested in Textiles as Fine Art and knew that PCA had a good department. When my father, a Spanish professor at Butler, in Indianapolis, came home with a list of colleges that had reciprocity with Butler, meaning that there was a tuition exchange and college would be free, and we saw that PCA was on the list, that sealed the deal. I never worried about my academic grades or competition from other applicants or if my work was strong enough, I simply knew that was what I was going to do.

My son, Raphael, is a junior at Annapolis High and is in my opinion a talented artist, who divides his time between drawing, playing Guild Wars, Magic the Gathering, and skateboarding, not necessarily in that order. I am glad I did not have those distractions when I was in high school and devoted most of my time to making art.

So, to get back to portfolio day… I found out about this date thanks to a postcard sent to my son from the U Arts Office of Admissions. I planned to take him to this event, but didn’t know it was so early in the academic year and was glad to receive the notification.

I happen to know one of the U Arts admissions officers so I asked him via Facebook if there was a pre-registration process and he assured me that there wasn’t. Just come, register and wait in line for any school with whom you want to share your portfolio. That part is by far what needs adjusting.

We arrived at 12:30 and went in the Main Building where we registered, which was a very simple process and there wasn’t a line. The time for registration was listed as 12:30 on the MICA website and the registration packet listed it as starting at 12:00.

Each student artist was handed a list of the participating schools and their location, either in the Main Building or the Brown Center, across the street and a list of the schools by majors areas of study. Many of the “rock star art schools” were in the Brown Center, including MICA. Many schools represented are not as well known or were schools with good art departments that are not solely art schools, such as Alfred or Rochester Institute of Technology.

We went up to the third floor of the Main Building and got in line to for U Arts which was the same line for Moore College of Art, one of many art schools in Philadelphia. I spoke with some of the students in line, curious to know their motivation for attending this event. A woman behind us in line actually lives in Philly, very near U Arts and is studying at the Community College of Philadelphia so I didn’t really understand why she choose to shlep a trolley cart full of ceramics to Baltimore and wait in the U Arts line. She wants to major in Industrial Design. Many of the students had large portfolios, stretched canvas paintings and other large works on boards, etc. My son brought his sketchbook which is filled with drawings that are Advanced Placement Studio Art assignments.

While we waited, there was confusion about lines, room numbers and locations of some schools. A room next to our line with FIT and Parsons in Paris didn’t even have their names on the door. No wonder they didn’t have a long line. We started hearing rumours about how long the line was for RISD in the Brown Center and I started having doubts about standing in that line. We also thought about visiting Pratt, where my son may want to major in Illustration. I told him we could visit Pratt another time and plan a trip to Providence.

Our wait wasn’t all that bad and we went to the speak with Arjan Zazueta, one of the admissions counselors representing U Arts. He was a good choice to critique my son’s work habits because his mother is also an artist. Most of the advice he dispensed was about making the high school assignments more personal; tweaking them to be more relevant to my son’s ideas and imagery, which is what I try to tell him. Arjan told him “you have to own it,” meaning make it important enough that you are proud of it. He told him to expand upon some of his sketches, make them larger and try different media and to take some art classes outside of high school. We discussed the academic qualifications, which are not mentioned in the U Arts brochure about portfolio requirements. This was an important question because my son is not studious and is concerned about this aspect of his application to art school.

It seems to me that there should be a better way to organize this event, so there aren’t ginormous lines. If Southwest and the Bolt Bus can do it, can’t institutions of higher art learning come up with a better system? Can’t there be an online pre-registration that gives you a number based on first come, first served and then you take your place in line, in numerical order? That way, you can have a spot in the lines for your first choice schools. I am sure there are kinks to work out, like how to figure out how to accommodate those in more than one line, but it could be done fairly easily and would add a significant improvement to the experience.

While it seems like great PR for the schools with the longest lines, it builds hype and everyone wants to know which schools have the long lines, it also creates divisions and doubts for those waiting in shorter lines. You can’t help but wonder, are you not as hip if you aren’t in the long lines? The students waiting to show their work to a MICA admissions counselor, were, by far in the longest line. It started in the Fox Building and wound its way onto two levels of the Brown Center. This was fair enough, since they were the host. I wonder how many students were left waiting at 5:00, when the event was supposed to be over.

I, for one, was discouraged when I contemplated waiting in a long line. We attended so that we could visit more than one school and did not accomplish that goal. I told my son we could visit MICA anytime and we will do that, with an appointment with an admissions counselor. He went to summer classes for several years, while I was working there and is familiar with the campus.

I am curious about the statistics on how many students attended and how many schools were represented at the event. I would like to know, ultimately, how many students end up in a school as a result of this experience.

This year’s National Portfolio Day at MICA was December 2, 2012.

Author Anna Fine Foer is an Annapolis-based Visual Artist. View her work here

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