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School of Art MFA printmaking program jumps into nation’s top 20: U.S. News & World Report

March 21, 2012
Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes

Printmakers in the NIU School of Art are celebrating a new U.S. News & World Report ranking that places their program in the nation’s top 20.

NIU, tied with Syracuse University at No. 19, is one of only two schools on that prestigious honor roll that is neither a private art school nor a flagship institution.

“This is a major accomplishment for any institution, and it confirms what those of us here have known all along: We have world-class arts programs that educate and train world-class students,” said Rich Holly, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

“A strong ranking such as this will act as a springboard for more potential students and their parents to know the truly high quality of our programs,” Holly said. “We continue to push the envelope, raise the bar and recruit students who want to come along for the ride.”

“It is very helpful to have objective evidence of the quality of our programs such as that provided by U.S. News to demonstrate to prospective students that we are, in fact, amongst the very best on offer in the country, and, as a state institution, we are the best value for money anywhere,” said Doug Boughton, director of the School of Art.

“It also provides affirmation to students and faculty alike that their efforts to set and pursue high standards of achievement at NIU have been recognized,” he added. “It reinforces faculty belief that they are making the right curriculum choices, and is affirming for students that they have made the right choice in their selection of institution.”

Cracking the top 20 has been the goal of professor Michael Barnes since he arrived in 1998, and one that program coordinator Ashley Nason embraced when she came to NIU seven years ago.

Barnes and Nason trace their program’s shattering of the “glass ceiling” to active participation of students and faculty in the profession.

Their attendance at national and international conferences has given major visibility to NIU, Barnes said. Deans, directors and chairs from other schools see first-hand not only the work of NIU’s students but their passion and sense of community.

Southern Graphics Council International logoBoth were featured in “A Survey of Contemporary Printmaking,” which was released during the 2012 Southern Graphics Council International Conference held March 14 to March 18 in New Orleans and was a featured topic for one of the panel presentations.

Edited by Matthew Egan, Michael Ehlbeck and Heather Muise (East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.), it was published in conjunction with a recent print conference they organized called “Print Summit.”

Meanwhile, MFA candidate Aaron Coleman recently was awarded the Southern Graphics Council International Graduate Student Fellowship during the annual meeting; BFA candidate Ryan Kangail won the SGCI Undergraduate Student Fellowship.

When they’re not teaching at NIU or attending conferences, Barnes and Nason are busy exhibiting their artwork around the world, publishing in prestigious journals, answering constant demands to offer workshops throughout the United States and serving as visiting artists.

“There is no question that we have accomplished this recognition because of the hard work and international reputation of our printmaking faculty,” Boughton said. “Given the reputation of these folks, high-level graduate students are attracted to the program from all over the country, and the standard has risen as a consequence.”

For Barnes and Nason, the U.S. News nod is just frosting on the cake.

“When I was in my second year of graduate school at the University of Iowa, they achieved the No. 1 ranking in the country. It was my first experience with U.S. News & World Report and the impact of it. That boosted their program dramatically, from their reputation to the application pool,” Barnes said.

“When I took the job here, I wanted to be at a four-year school where I could work to build the program, draw the best students and have good visibility,” he added. “I’m hoping this brings recognition to the School of Art as a whole.”

Printmaking curricula spans traditional media, such as lithography, etching on metal, woodcut, screen printing and contemporary methods such as digital print media and interdisciplinary approaches that utilize the various print media as a supporting element.

Graduates can find jobs teaching and working in print shops, or prosperous self-employment as artists.

NIU’s printmaking program currently enrolls 11 graduate students and 20 undergraduates. The new ranking is likely to lift both numbers and boost their career potential, Barnes said.

“This puts us on the map of the programs out there. Our name already has a good reputation; this gives it an extra stamp of credential,” he said.

“Students choose NIU because we have a really good energy here. Students have the flexibility to make what they want to make. We have great facilities here, and we’ve been building on them every since Ashley and I gothere,” he added. “When our students go to conferences, people see a group of artists who are excited and involved and doing good work. Potential students see that and say, ‘Hey, I want to go there and be part of that energy.’ ”

Holly and Boughton expect no less.

“We will do even better. Mike and Ashley have the ambition to move the program even higher up the list,” Boughton said. “We also aim to achieve appropriate recognition for the other studio areas, all of which can provide evidence of remarkable achievements by graduates.”

“Michael and Ashley are not only master printmakers,” Holly said, “but they are master printmaking teachers.”

For more information on NIU’s printmaking program, call (815) 753-1473, email [email protected] or visit