rethinking the institutional MFA – introducing the sMFA

What if the equivalent to a Masters of Fine Arts could be awarded based on peer recognition via social media channels?

We could name it The Social MFA. With the designation of a lower case “s” for sMFA.

We could structure the process so that it could be implemented and followed through by independent groups of people from anywhere. Galleries, organizations and artists from your community would be able to get involved.

It would be outside of any formal academic institution, and would also exist as an agreement between members of a relevant community. A sMFA should abide by rigorous standards of investigation, production and critical discourse comparable to as a typical, accredited MFA as demonstrated so on the candidate’s public website and monitored by various referees.

However, an sMFA receives its validation by crowd-sourcing critiques, responses, and assessments of the overall program via the public website of the sMFA candidate. The sMFA is also a two-year program, though there are no “semesters” or scheduled breaks. It is one year of study, while the second year is dedicated to studio work in preparation for the candidate’s Thesis Exhibit.

And it’s free.

And it’s a really challenging and unique program.

The Fine Print

Here are my ideas on how to structure an “open-source” style program for artists, such as the sMFA. Though I am sure that there will be improvements and variations along the path to suit different circumstances, with different social media educational initiatives.

The Application

The sMFA candidate must create a public website that contains the following elements:

1.artist statement


3.20 examples of your work

4.proposed areas of investigation

5.There must be the ability to comment and create new pages / sections / links as needed.

6.Any and all (aside from personal correspondence) aspects of program progress, documentation and discussion must take place on the website, or be posted to the website in a timely manner, or be linked to in a prominent and clear way. All content must provide the means to be commented upon by the public.

7.Recommendations – as many as you like, and in whatever form you see fit.

The Program of Study

1.There are no predetermined areas of study in the sMFA such as painting, art history, interdisciplinary, etc., nor is there formal recognition of such distinctions in the awarding of an sMFA.

2.The candidate designates seven (7) organizations, entities, individuals, objects, documents–or any other definable areas of significant interest, relevancy and influence–as the “7 areas of interest”.

3.Consent from, or direct contact with every one of the 7 is not required* for valid inclusion as part of the investigation of the applicant’s MFA thesis. However there must be a measurable and logical interaction between each of the 7 and the applicant, as directly relating the process and practice of that applicant’s MFA thesis.

*one of the 7 will sit on the sMFA mentor committee of 3 and must be fully aware, consenting and able to participate in the MFA Thesis Exhibit critique.

4.Applicant will provide a one line (less than 140 characters) sentence that describes this connection for each of the chosen 7.

5.Assignments and directions will be supplied for one year on an ongoing and informal manner by the sMFA mentor committee, based on the sMFA candidate’s application.

The sMFA Program mentors, administrators and referees.

1. The sMFA mentor committee is composed of three individuals. One of these three is chosen by the sMFA candidate and is part of their 7 areas of interest, while also acting initially as an advocate and primary mentor for the candidate within the sMFA program.

The remaining two mentors are to be chosen by a neutral, established gallery or similar organization, that will act as referee for this one particular task. This entity should have a physical and public presence in the community.

If accepted by the candidate and all three members of the proposed committee, then this group becomes the official sMFA mentor committee of the candidate for two years. The committee must convene 6 times, for at least 2 hours at a time, over this time span. The 2 non-7 committee members may choose to disband or appoint replacement members at any time, but there must be at least 3 for all 6 meetings.

The incarnation of the sMFA mentor committee will recommend exhibits, research readings, media, events and studio projects for the candidate at every session upon review and discussion of the candidate’s progress and direction.

2. The sMFA administration is entirely crowd-sourcing and volunteer / freelance contract based. Areas of support could typically include providing exhibition space, studio, technical support, performers, materials, publicity, etc. Acceptance or interest of any potential sMFA administrator is entirely up to the candidate, though the mentor committee may provide suggestions in areas useful to the candidate.

3.The Referees are literally any member of a community relevant to the individual artist, who comment and discuss the sMFA program on the candidate’s website or social channel. Pertinent criticism, questions, information, suggestions and support as publicly commented to the sMFA’s online presence qualify an individual as a referee. It is realistic to expect a variety of perspectives from qualified referees that may be contrary to each other. The referees, along with the sMFA mentor committee, are essential components of what is essentially a social jury, that validates the efforts and process of the candidate and program

Requirements for graduation:

1.The sMFA mentor committee can choose to disband or not proceed with convening for the sMFA thesis exhibit.

2.The sMFA mentor committee decides on the make up of the three person sMFA thesis exhibit committee. One of the three members must be from the sMFA mentor committee.

3.The thesis exhibit must be public and have a physical and public presence in the community.

4.The candidate is to have a three hour live, oral defence of the exhibit and program of study to the sMFA thesis exhibit committee and any peer or administrator. This is to take place after the exhibit is open. If it is virtual, the defence must be live online and open to public comments. If it is in person, and/or with a combination of teleconferencing, then it must be broadcast simultaneously online, while also providing the ability to comment by the public in real-time–otherwise proceedings are too informal. The defence ceremony is not to take place unless the candidate’s success has previously been assured.

5.When the sMFA thesis exhibit committee declares they are satisfied with the work, progress, and results of the candidate’s studies and studio work, the candidate is now able to list as one of their credentials: a social Master’s of Fine Arts (sMFA).

Other considerations of the program to encourage development of the sMFA into functional and economically viable “schools”:

1.The candidate may work with other candidates when considering an sMFA program. Groups of candidates with similar interests and methods may benefit greatly from this, for example.

2.The members of the mentor committee may engage in multiple sMFA programs.

3.This platform is designed to be able to occur anywhere with a determined group, and structured to work only by consent between like-minded professionals with meaningful community feedback and irrefutable acknowledgement of the candidate’s level of achievement and competency in the contemporary fine arts as equivalent, if not superior, to an accredited MFA program.

4.These guidelines for a sMFA program are released as “open-source” and strictly for educational use (Open source is a set of principles and practices that promote access to the design and production of goods and knowledge) and as such can be transmitted, copied and modified but without any intellectual property restrictions. Accreditation to the original documentation must be given.

5.Though the sMFA is free to distribute and produce, it is perfectly acceptable for payment to be arranged between the candidates and their mentors and administrators. Under the typical conditions of open-source, it is also perfectly acceptable to charge for services modifying the sMFA program guidelines and/or transmission of this date though the modified sMFA program is still considered open-source and free of intellectual copyrights.

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