The 10 Best “Hidden Gem” Art Schools in the US

3. Massachusetts College of Art and Design (Boston, MA)

Massachusetts College of Art
photo via Wikimedia Commons

An exceptional college tucked away in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood, MassArt is a premiere art school that is actually the only freestanding public art school in the entire country. Founded in 1873, this hidden gem of an institution is among the nation’s oldest art schools. In fact, it was the first college in the country to grant a degree in the visual arts.

MassArt is a college complete with exceptional facilities to meet the needs of a contemporary student artist. These facilities include at least seven outstanding art galleries as well as The Pozen Center, an entire floor dedicated to expansive live performances, installations, and exhibits.

While all of MassArt’s degrees are extensive in scope and curriculum, one particularly outstanding program is in photography. The photography department is home to many exceptional faculty members who are accomplished photographers themselves, including Laura McPhee, a Guggenheim fellow noted for her sweeping photographs of landscapes and their people. 

Other notable faculty of MassArt include Barbara Bosworth, a photographer whose work focuses on the relationship between humans and nature, and Taylor Davis, an innovative wood sculpture artist.

MassArt is not a school that rests on its laurels; recently, MassArt opened a brand new art museum, aptly called the MassArt Art Museum (MAAM). This unique museum opened under the auspices of MassArt’s “Unbound” fundraising campaign, which raised an impressive $12.5 million to fund the project.


2. Columbus College of Art and Design (Columbus, OH)

Columbus College of Art and Design
photo via Wikimedia Commons

Like the first two schools on the list, Columbus College is among the oldest colleges for art in the country, establishing itself as an institution in 1879. 

Every year, CCAD puts on a campus-wide, juried art show displaying exemplary works by student artists in every major. The show, titled Chroma: Best of CCAD, features over 1,000 works by student artists annually.

One of CCAD’s most impressive programs is in fashion design. Every year, students can participate in the CCAD Fashion Show, a highly anticipated event complete with runway models and original student fashion on full display. This event attracts hundreds of spectators every year, ranging from normal residents of Columbus to major fashion brands, designers, and directors. 

Due in part to the influence of CCAD’s fashion design program, Columbus, Ohio ranks third for most fashion designers in any city in the US.

Students at CCAD also have the opportunity to gain firsthand experience selling their own work. Through the twice-yearly CCAD art fair, students and alumni of CCAD have the chance to sell their own work. In some art fairs at CCAD, total sales have reached six figures.

CCAD holds a special partnership with an adjacent institution, the Columbus Museum of Art. For nearly 90 years, the two have maintained a unique relationship, with CCAD students and faculty routinely seeing new works by modern, cutting-edge artists featured at the CMA.


1. Kansas City Art Institute (Kansas City, MO)

Kansas City Art Institute
photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Kansas City Art Institute has every possible major an artist could want to study, ranging from filmmaking to fiber arts to animation and everything in between. KCAI has some of the smallest classroom sizes of any art school, with the student-to-teacher ratio being an exceptionally comfortable 9:1.

KCAI is home to a vibrant arts community both in and out of the classroom. Tucked away in Kansas City’s premier arts district, the Kansas City Art Institute finds itself adjacent to two seminal arts museums, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. These museums and KCAI have held an extraordinary partnership for several decades, providing students with some of the best opportunities to see contemporary art in practice.

One thing that stands out about KCAI is the exceptional quality of faculty. Faculty members are not only experienced teachers, they are outstanding artists and scholars themselves. One of KCAI’s most celebrated faculty members is photographer Cyan Meeks, a video artist & filmmaker whose works have been featured at the Sundance Film Festival, Chicago Cultural Center, and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

In 2015, KCAI received the single largest donation in its history, an anonymous $25 million gift. This outstanding contribution has been used towards facilities renovation as well as significantly increasing scholarships for incoming students.

For students interested in arts entrepreneurship, a unique program exists between KCAI and the nearby University of Missouri at Kansas City Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

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