What is a Low-Residency MFA Program? New Contributor Davin Watne (painting ’94) Shares His Experience at MICA’s MFAST Program

In the summer of 2010 I started my first year of the MFAST program at the Maryland Institute College of Art.  the MFAST program can best be described as a summer low-residency program that spans four summers.  A little background first, the program was first developed by Dean Karen Carroll in 1990/91. It was the first program of its kind (low residency MFA in Fine Arts) in the US developed specifically for K-12 teachers. Even though it was an MFA degree it had a lot more Art Ed emphasis in its curriculum then. Timothy App was one of the original faculty members and has been mentoring in the program since its inception. John Penny and Zlata Baum joined the program, both teaching the Critical Studies seminars in 2000 and later mentoring as well. After 2002, the program opened up to all applicants interested in low residency options, not just K-12 teachers. The curriculum was revised significantly and the program became much more rigorous, especially the critical studies seminars. The curriculum has become much more selective over the years.

My experience there has been pivotal.  It is the perfect MFA program for anyone who is teaching at the K-12 level or teaching adjunct at a university.  If you are like me, you may have hit the ceiling at your place of employment and getting your MFA is crucial to any career improvement.  The fact that it takes place in the summer and is a low-residency program is what makes it so convenient to individuals in the teaching profession. I like that it takes place over six weeks.  During that time you are urged to take advantage of the intense curriculum and individual attention from the mentors Once the summer is over you have the fall and spring to work at your own pace in your own community and digest the experiences you had.

Davin’s studio at MICA

While in the program you have ample studio space, sometimes occupying several studios at once. You also have access to all of MICA’s state of the art facilities, including the career development center, library, woodshop, metal shop, media lab, 3D printing lab, and full editing suites to name just a few.  All of this is made available for the MFAST program and because it takes place in the summer these facilities are never very crowded.  Each grad student is assigned a mentor that you keep in contact with the entire year.  The mentors are the best asset to the MFAST program as well as the program director Zlata Baum.  My mentor has been very supportive as well as very rigorous.  You are also encouraged to meet with the other mentors at anytime to gain different perspectives on your work.  Each mentor has their strengths in various mediums and subjects; all of them are truly unique and engaging in their own regard.

Davin working on his guerrilla retail sculptures

While there, you are expected to take advantage of the time by working in the studio as much as possible.  You also have to attend critical studies courses and professional practice workshops.  The critical studies course is designed to help give a theoretical background to support your ideas and expose you to the best of contemporary critical discourse.  I have personally found this class most fascinating over the past three summers and always gain new ideas for my own artwork and research.  MICA always brings in great artist to lecture and to do studio visits with the grad students.  During the last three summers I have attended lectures by Marc Dion, Richard Tuttle, and Peter Rostovsky just to name a few. The chance to meet with these artists, one on one in your studio and hear their insights is really remarkable.

The MFAST program attracts really unique individuals from all over the country and internationally.  They range in age and experience like most grad programs. I have become fast friends with everyone in the program and also keep in touch with many that have graduated.  The friendships made, becomes another network of professional contacts scattered all over the country to take advantage of.  MFAST people tend to look out for each other. They also know how to blow off steam, as hard as everyone works, there are times when a spontaneous dance party may erupt. We often joke about it and call it “Artcamp”.

The low-residency aspect can be a challenge for people with families, some bring them along which can be distracting or leave them behind which can be difficult. The six weeks goes by fast for us, but slow for the families waiting at home.  I know this, because I have a seven-year-old daughter I leave behind every summer and she hates it when I go to Baltimore.

The city of Baltimore is great.  At first I was apprehensive about the city because of my fascination with the HBO series “The Wire” but once I got settled I found it to be a lot like Kansas City.  There is a healthy art scene that is very DYI as well as having big established museums and institutions, several area college galleries and a major art college. Baltimore has a unique vibe, the citizens know it is kind of a mess but they are very proud of its eccentricities.  It is a mid-market city like Kansas City and it is one-to-three hour driving distance from Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and New York.  Baltimore is a town with a lot of history, you can feel it in the air and see it in the architecture and gothic churches when you walk around.  It is the home of Eager Allen Poe and John Waters, both artist have been very influenced by it’s gothic strangeness and gritty aesthetics.

I would recommend the MFAST program at MICA to anyone who is looking to develop their career, challenge their practice and get their degree. I think it was one of the smartest decisions I made.  I do regret that I waited this long.  If you have any questions or would like to know more about the MFAST program, click on the link below.


Talk, recent painting by Davin

Davin Watne is one of the Access Alumni Events Exhibition jurors for the student exhibition at Cara Y Cabezas opening in February. You can learn more about him by visiting our About Page. Davin will be speaking at the Rivercity Church at 40th and Wyoming this Friday, September 7 at 6:30. During the lecture Davin will discuss the progression of his work over the last decade and his interest in experimenting with products of enhancement, gender ambiguity, Glam Rock aesthetics, Northwest Coast Native American Art, commodity fetish, Santa Muerte and how all these subjects have had substantial influence on his work. This lecture is free and open to the public! See the Facebook event:


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One thought on “What is a Low-Residency MFA Program? New Contributor Davin Watne (painting ’94) Shares His Experience at MICA’s MFAST Program

  1. […] Davin Watne is a painter and installation artist currently going into his final year of the MFA in Studio Art program at the Maryland Institute College of Art.  Since beginning the program in 2010, he has gained significant insight about the low-residency summer MFA program and what MFAST has to offer to contemporary artists.  An alum of the Kansas City Art Institute, he took the opportunity to share these experiences and offer advice on the KCAI Career Services Case Study Blog.  In his article, he goes into great detail about the facilities at MICA, the Critical Studies Seminar, the professional practice and technology workshops, the MFAST mentors and extensive list of visiting artists, as well as the close community of talented students fostered by the program.  To read the article in its entirety, please click here. […]

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