Hi! I see that you are a professor at MCA? I've been accepted into their Illustration program this fall. They've given me a generous scholarship and seem to be very interested in me. But I've looked online at the reviews and they just have me scared. What was your experience like teaching there? Do you personally think it's a good place to study? I've been accepted to SVA's illustration program as well. I would value your input on which school I should consider attending! Thanks much!
This might have been better suited as an e-mail, but I’ll answer it here. If you have further questions, please email me at john (at) johnleedraws.com.
I no longer teach at MCA, as I am about to pursue my Masters at, er, SVA. I actually received a very similar question earlier, which you can check out here. I’ll try and be as unbiased as possible; that means the good, the bad, the ugly.
A BFA is a very risky proposition for the money invested; you have to understand that going in. If you are OK with the risks (and depending on your background, the risks might be greater or less than others) then that’s how I would determine on where to go for undergrad. It becomes a value judgement on what you’re getting for your buck, I suppose.
SVA is, without a doubt, the superior school in terms of resources available to the individual student. It’s perennially regarded as one of the top art schools in the country, certainly for illustration. But is it the best value, especially if you have a hefty scholarship to MCA? I’m not so sure.
MCA is a much smaller school, and in a lot of ways is primarily aimed at the Mid-South. Just pulling numbers off the site; while the current student body comes from 25 states and 5 foreign countries, 60% come from the Mid-South. So if you grew up in the South, and it’d be easier for you to stay around here, that’s definitely a plus.
The reviews that you’ve read (from where?) are probably old and don’t reflect the entire situation from the past 3 years. The Illustration program, when I was teaching and when I left, was in the process of rebuilding. In 2012, there was a lot of shuffling around, and some tough decisions made in the wake of a hard financial shakeup. I would like to stress that this is not unique to MCA.
When a school has to dramatically restructure, I’m afraid one of the hardest hit areas is usually the academic quality, and those repercussions affect students the most. The other instructors and I tried to offset that as much as possible when I was teaching (to varying degrees of success on my part.)
Here’s the good news: recently, MCA read the writing on the wall, and decided to give a huge amount of institutional support towards illustration (and comics!) specifically. Once regarded as a red-headed step-child to drawing and painting, it’s now the largest department on campus, occupies a prominent amount of the school, and is headed by a new professor, Michele Noiset. Michele is absolutely awesome in all regards, and I couldn’t be happier that she took the reins.
Whatever the illustration department was, it is now better and getting better ever day. I’m hesitant to make any predictions, but I’d say that in a few years, if given the chance, it will be comparable to other regional schools in the area like KCAI and VCU.
It is, however, very small. You can’t go into it thinking that, say, Sam Weber and Yuko Shimizu are going to teach you how to paint and ink. But, you should go into art school (wherever you end up) willing to work hard regardless of who’s instructing you.
One last note: if you’re being heavily recruited by MCA, that means that they really want you. And because the school is so small that doesn’t stop once you get to campus. We teachers talk about y’all all the time and if you’re superlative, then everyone definitely takes notice.
So take all this for what it’s worth (a blog post on tumblr). Again, feel free to e-mail me if you have any additional questions.