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In Focus

DIY MFA: 8 Places in NYC to Learn About Art for Free (or Almost Free)

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DIY MFA: 8 Places in NYC to Learn About Art for Free (or Almost Free)

New York has no shortage of great art schools, but for those of us who either can't foot the bill, or simply want to bone up on art education without being a full time student, the city boasts a multitude of options for educational enrichment. Here are eight places where you’ll find lectures, workshops, and discussions to get you on track for your own DIY MFA.

 

NYU Lecture Series at The Institute of Fine Arts

 

NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts hosts an open, totally free, and profoundly comprehensive lecture series each new calendar year. For the art-history buffs out there, come witness luminaries of the field discuss topics ranging from the ancient world and conservation to the development of Western art (and world artO from the middle ages to modernity; it’s all here and free for the taking. For contemporary art enthusiasts, each year the Graduate Student Association picks and invites iconic, heavy-hitting artists to discuss their work with the community. Previous lecturers include Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Kiki Smith, Mel Bochner, Richard Tuttle, Terry Winters… the list goes on and on. 

 

The Bruce High Quality Foundation


This tuition-free nonprofit believes “an art world built solely to feed the industry isn’t an interesting place to live.” Offering free fall and spring semester courses, exhibitions year-round, and a pro-bono studio residency program, BHQFU is perhaps the most grassroots art school in New York.

Courses vary on topics ranging from traditional programing, like weekly evening lectures at Cooper Union by important art thinkers and artists, to the more experimental offerings, like a course inspired by Chopped—a completive cooking show on the Food Network—where selected class members compete against one another in a reality TV-style gauntlet of hands-on, cutthroat art-making.

BHQFU’s FUG exhibition and project space, which opened in 2015, has already hosted eight major events including #ProvokeProtestPrevail presented by the Guerilla Girls that included three workshops led by the feminist activists. Spring courses are to be announced December 26th, many of which will be led by current BHQFU residency recipients.

 

Flux Factory

 

 

The onetime DIY artist-run space, now an established nonprofit, Flux Factory provides rotating residencies, exhibition opportunities, occasional lectures and workshops, and Thursday potluck dinners to cultural producers seeking knowledge and community. Whether you’re looking to work with a group to make robots that will act as an “amalgamated body” during an exhibition performance, screening a community member’s latest conceptual video, or learning the history of artist-made books while constructing your own, there is something at Flux to expand your artistic horizons.

 

Pratt Fine Arts Visiting Artists Lecture Series

 

Also free and open to the public, Pratt hosts an ongoing cycle of contemporary artist lectures who later critique the work of current graduate students in the department. Spring 2017 speakers include Spencer Finch, Sarah Oppenheimer, Paula Wilson, and Steffani Jemison. Past visiting artists include Trenton Doyle Hancock, Judith Bernstein, Peter Saul, and Nicole Eisenman, to name a few. Lectures occur Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.

If you're willing to spend a bit, Pratt also offers a veritable cornucopia of Continuing Ed options, ranging from perfumery and painting to the study of Nanotechnologies for conservation. Courses will set you back as little as $300 to as much as $2,000; the steeper end pays for material-heavy two-week summer intensives. 

 

New York Academy of Art —Art and Culture Lecture Series and Professional Practice Lecture Series

 

There is a lot to take away from NYAA’s yearly and free Art and Culture Lecture Series. The school focuses on the tradition of figurative painting, drawing, and sculpture, and so invites the vanguard of these fields to speak in an intimate setting to current students and the general public. Past visiting artists include Kehinde Wiley, Walton Ford, Dana Schutz, and Carroll Dunham. Be sure to check out former New York Times art critic Ken Johnson and New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff discuss humor and visual art on January 18th. 

The Professional Practice series presents talks with tastemakers, dealers, critics, and curators, giving a behind-the scenes look into the working lives of art-world operators. Last year saw rousing discussions with collector, attorney, and art-finance professor Franklin Boyd and the Met’s social media manager, Kimberly Drew. 

Considering hands-on education, the price tag of a MFA from NYAA is hardly acceptable for the average human, but there is plenty offered in the few-hundred-buck range in the Continuing Ed department, like life painting and drawing. 

 

Silent Barn

 

As a non-hierarchical collective in Bushwick, Silent Barn hosts live/work studio residents on its top floor, working studio spaces for various artists on its first floor, a cafe and bar, a theatre space, and multiple galleries. With a wide range of programming you can participate in everything from Punk Rock Karaoke to a Bystander Intervention and De-Escalation Workshop (taking place December 23rd at 7pm.) Not all programing and events are free, but the $7 to $15 range is definitely worth it. 

 

Pioneer Works

 

Brainchild of dystopic artist Dustin Yellin, Pioneer Works is an alternative education center that sees itself as model for how to synthesize visual arts, technology, music, and the sciences. The Red Hook space is a nonprofit, with a gallery and garden always free and open to the public. This year alone it has hosted science talks with Richard Dawkins, an art fair for alternative art educational institutions, and a major retrospective of the media art group Ant Farm. The space, for minimal fees, offers around 12 short-form classes a month on a wide array of topics like codling or glass blowing.

 

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

 

As its name implies, the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research is not solely dedicated to arts education. But their robust catalogue of monthly courses do often include the arts and humanities, with an upcoming course in February called Cybernetics and Art, and past courses like "Aesthetics and the Senses," "Screen Capture: Theories of Photography," and 'The Avant-Garde in Theory and Practice."

To limit yourself to art theory courses, however, may be a mistake—this school, which also offers educational development to non-profits, labor unions, and private companies—has a plethora of theory-heavy courses that will surely inform your world view. Courses generally unravel over three or four three-hour sessions and cost $315. If you’re looking for a cheaper option, check their calendar regularly for additional panels, film screenings, and discussions—or, if you’re on the go, subscribe to their Podcast for Social Research.

DIY MFA is an exclusive, registered trademark of DIY MFA LLC, which has not licensed, sponsored or approved this website or article.

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