MFAs Are Expensive—Here Are 8 Art School Alternatives

Higher education is in a state of crisis. Student debt is skyrocketing. And those looking for masters degrees pay ever-higher sums to institutions that frequently underpay the very adjunct faculty they employ as teachers. For those in the arts, the question of whether or not an MFA is worth the investment of time and money proves perpetually vexing. Enter the inaugural Alternative Art School Fair (AASF), an initiative of the educational wing of Red Hook, Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works. The well-attended fair brought some 50 alternative art schools from across the globe together this past weekend. The result? A staggering offering of educational options that go far beyond a simple replacement or alternative to an MFA.

The restructuring of education and resistance to traditional institutional models of schooling is an act that has implications far beyond the classroom. “There’s really been this reemergence, in part due to necessity, of artists taking control of the means of their education,” said Catherine Despont, Pioneer Works’s co-director of education and an organizer of the fair. She sees these alternative schools as addressing much larger issues, including a disconnect between artists and the political and even ecological world around them. Many of the panels arranged as part of the fair tackled such issues head on. As we spoke, Despont summoned an old quote from John Dewey, who once described the dilemma of arts in America as recovering “the continuity of aesthetic experience with the normal processes of living.”

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