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Artistic Wonder in Italy

by Art U News

The Study Abroad program provides a stimulating, creative environment for students to hone their skills in locations brimming with artistic history 

By Nina Tabios

For over a decade, Academy of Art University students have taken their arts education overseas through the Study Abroad program. With the help of School of Fine Art—Painting & Printmaking Executive Director Craig Nelson and other faculty, the Academy hosted its first Study Abroad summer session in 2006 in Corciano, in central Italy’s Province of Perugia.

But anyone that’s been to Italy in the summer knows the Bel Paese can hit 100-plus degrees by mid-day. Holding classes outside wasn’t going to cut it and by 2012, the Academy forged a partnership with Santa Reparata International School of Art (SRISA) in Florence. With housing and classroom accommodations in place, Nelson said Florence couldn’t be more perfect for the Study Abroad program.

“One of the great things about Florence is that it is the center of the Renaissance which is the birth of the whole big artistic movement that continues on to this day,” he said.

The 2018 Study Abroad summer session included over 40 students, broken down into 15 photographers, 21 painters and eight art history students. According to Nelson, about half were online students that flew in from as far as Australia, China and Myanmar in Burma and proved to be “the most dedicated students I have ever run into.”

“I’d go into the facility and walk through after dinner on Sunday night and there would be five to 10 of them and they’d be working,” Nelson recalled. “They just wanted that kind of help. And so we just stayed and gave it to them. So they got a lot more hands-on from us than they would have if they were on-site.”

Academy Art U News spoke with a few of the participating students and instructors. Read on to learn more about their classes, weekend field trips to Venice and coastal Tuscany that made the 2018 Study Abroad summer session one to remember.


Photo by Anna Nelson.

“As an online student, attending a class in person at all was a wonderful experience. But the nature of studying abroad allowed for another level of focused time and attention from instructors. The class felt personal and casual while still consistently challenging us to improve.”

—Jess Velarde,
M.F.A. fine art—painting


Photo by Anna Nelson.

“In class, it was the creative interaction that made the program so memorable. To this day, I’ve never studied in such a diverse environment with students ranging from all ages and walks of life. My class wasn’t just full of painters but also illustrators, educators, sculptors and writers working within different levels, yet striving for the same goal: to improve their painting capabilities and understanding of art.”

—Juan Vega, B.F.A. fashion styling


Photo by Tory Richards.

“Physically being in front of a Leonardo painting, moving around a Michelangelo sculpture, or walking through a Brunelleschi church are experiences that are impossible to reproduce through images and film. Experience with art helps students be more curious and critical. It forces you to identify how you feel about something based on your experience. This, wrapped within the rich cultural context of Italy, is a life-changing event for every student.” 

—Braden Engel, Undergraduate History and Theory Coordinator, School of Architecture


Photo by Stanley Johnson.

“If anyone is even slightly considering studying abroad I would say: do it. As daunting as it might seem to live in a foreign country for a few months, being in such a diverse and culturally rich environment helped grow me tremendously as an individual. As cliché as it sounds, I have memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

—Maddie Lucarelli, B.F.A. costume design


Photo by Jess Velarde.

“It was a true privilege for an otherwise fully online student to work so personally with the Academy [instructors], get to know them as both instructors and as professional artists, and to receive the direct, infinite benefit of their superb one-on-one [instruction] and supportive insights.”

—Victoria “Tory” Richards, B.F.A. fine art—painting & drawing


Photo by Matthew Pace. 

“Florence is said to have more art per square foot than anywhere else in the world.  For photographers, this influence is seen and deeply felt in the historical and contemporary aspects of art and culture in the city and surrounding areas.  The architecture, landscape, art, food and the local people all impact the way that photographers see and experience this culturally diverse area. This diversity provides our students extensive photographic opportunity to build on for their class projects.”

—Tamara Hubbard, Online Associate Director,
School of Photography 


Photo by Kimberly Mowbray.

“Taking this class gave me a sense of wonder and felt like I was creating things in a new light. It felt rejuvenating to experience something new since this was outside my major as well as learning about the culture I had found myself in.” 

—Emily Sanderson, B.F.A. 2-D animation and visual effects


Photo by Stanley Johnson.

“Florence is a city in continuous motion. With the constant influx of tourists and the daily patterns of its inhabitants, there is a continuous flow of people moving from point to destination … A steady flow of rolling suitcases highlights that people are in transition and the social landscape of this city is under constant change. This array of activity is what makes Florence so special.”

—Stanley Johnson, M.A. photography


Photo by Tory Richards.

“I feel that being able to visit [this] amazing art and architecture is almost like a privilege, especially when seeing them being so well preserved throughout the history. I wouldn’t call myself a history fan before, but now, taking this history class in Florence has made me fall in love with Renaissance history and I feel that history can be alive too.”

—Yuxin “Serena” Shi, B.Arch

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