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Professional rebirth: artists rekindle their passions in MFA in Visual Arts program
JU Visual Arts MFA students with guest artist Heather Hansen.

Professional rebirth: artists rekindle their passions in MFA in Visual Arts program

Duval County Public Schools art teacher Joi Hosker had a quandary: She wanted to teach full-time at a university someday, but didn’t want to leave her job to advance her education.

Enter Jacksonville University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Visual Arts.

Students Joi Hosker, left, and Amber Bailey at their art opening as part of their JU MFA Visual Arts degree work.

Students Joi Hosker, left, and Amber Bailey at their art opening as part of their JU MFA Visual Arts degree work.

Perfect time. Perfect place.

“I have pushed for an MFA program in Jacksonville for years, knowing it is not feasible for a teacher to take off two years out of town to pursue an MFA,” Hosker says. “This was my dream.”

Hosker is among eight artists, all with experience in the profession, who recently became JU’s first MFA in Visual Arts degree recipients. The next two-year cohort starts this summer. JU’s low-residency programs in Visual Arts and Choreography feature an intense summer curriculum as well as online learning and are geared to artists in transition or seeking to boost their careers. The MFA Visual Arts emphasizes conceptual and the creative process of generating new works that are grounded in both classical and contemporary art genres.

Student Mico Fuentes, right, works on an art project as part of the JU MFA Visual Arts masters program.

Student Mico Fuentes, right, works on an art project as part of the JU MFA Visual Arts masters program.

“Our program here at JU is inclusive and interdisciplinary, meaning it draws many different types of creatives,” says Assistant Professor of Foundations Lily Kuonen. “Despite being a low-residency program, our students create a strong sense of community that is both supportive and critical, and this is crucial for a successful MFA program.”

The annual six-week summer residency sessions are followed each year by two semesters of one-on-one distance study with JU faculty, credentialed mentors and renowned visiting artists aimed at expanding the students’ project-based work. The master’s candidates also have a one-week residency on campus working with undergraduate students.

Admissions to the highly selective program are made on a rolling basis but generally wrap up by mid-February to accommodate international students’ travel arrangements to be on campus in time for the summer residency. This year’s residency runs from June 27 to Aug. 5.

“Our first cohort of graduating MFA candidates is a creative, bonded community,” says Assistant Professor of Art Tiffany Leach.

Among last spring’s MFA graduates, Los Angeles artist Zachary Taylor says he discovered the JU opportunity at an ideal point in his career. He spent the past 13 years making and exhibiting artwork in the U.S. and abroad, but wanted “a break from LA.”

“I pursued this program to re-establish a critical environment for my artwork,” he says. “My work advanced and evolved due to the progressive nature of the program.”

Student Chris Dent prepares for a photo session as part of his work in the JU MFA Visual Arts low-residency program for professionals.

Student Chris Dent prepares for a photo session as part of his work in the JU MFA Visual Arts low-residency program for professionals.

Taylor is back in Los Angeles preparing for exhibitions and studio visits by local galleries and collectors; he says that because of his JU experience, his career is reborn.

“The daily process involved in making work continues to be fascinating and motivating,” he says.

Jacksonville native Garrett Peaks, an elementary school art teacher with a JU Bachelor of Science in Social Sciences, also intends for his MFA to be a gateway to a collegiate-level career.

“The most challenging part of this program has been the art-making itself: pushing through new territories, challenging self-created concepts, displaying mastery of media, and creating a cohesive body of artworks.”

The best part of the program?

“Being able to meet and pick the brain of working artists as well as museum curators and directors,” Peaks says.

JU Professor of Dance Cari Coble, the university’s MFA coordinator, says she was particularly impressed with the thesis projects of the cohort.

“Each student grew so much artistically,” she says. “Many students took big chances in challenging themselves to create new, interesting work outside of their comfort zone, and that was exciting to see.”

in class with guest artist, transdisciplinary and multi-media specialist Monika Weiss.

in class with guest artist, transdisciplinary and multi-media specialist Monika Weiss.

Expanding the College of Fine Arts’ curriculum to the graduate level is drawing students nationally and internationally, increasing JU’s global exposure, Coble says.

“It would be wonderful if each division could add graduate programs, and that is a long-range plan for the College of Fine Arts,” she says.

Hosker says the JU program far exceeded her expectations and that being part of history was icing on the cake.

“This was like a good movie: The expected turned into the absolute unexpected with amazing incidents, twists, art production and establishment of strong friendships. We’ve all hit the floor running since.”

In addition to Hosker, Taylor and Peaks, JU’s inaugural MFA recipients are Amber Bailey, Chris Dent, Micoel Fuentes, Alex Gotay and Matt Swaim.

For more about the College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Visual Arts, visit http://www.ju.edu/cfa/MFAVisualArts.