Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts ends degree programs

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

After a long and storied history, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts recently announced its decision to end degree programs at the college.

In a letter to the PAFA community, President and CEO Eric Pryor wrote that, despite best efforts to address declining enrollment, expanding requirements and increasing costs, school leadership and its Board of Trustees “determined that the only path forward is to wind down our BFA and MFA programs at the end of the 2024-2025 academic year. This change affects our degree-granting programs only. Our certificate programs, commitment to K-12 arts programs and continuing education will remain in place.”

The leaner PAFA will move forward with a greater focus on museum and exhibitions plans, such as Determined to Be: The Sculpture of John Rhoden, currently on display.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Determined to Be: The Sculpture of John Rhoden, installation view.Adrian Cubillas

While PAFA’s juniors and seniors are on track to graduate in 2024 and 2025, first-year students and sophomore instruction in the BFA programs will conclude at the end of the current academic year.

“For these students, we’ll create personalized transfer plans to a range of local and well-regarded schools, with whom we have made agreements, so students can complete their arts degrees with minimal disruption,” Pryor said. “Agreements are in place with University of the Arts, Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Moore College of Art & Design, Arcadia University and Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.”

Pryor explained to Metro that a long-term sustainability committee was created in 2022 to explore all funding options and that no stone was left unturned when making this decision.

“Since its earliest days, PAFA offered students a unique education with an educational experience that developed their skills and empowered them to create important, new American masterpieces,” Pryor told Metro. “That will not change. Those that take the certificate and our continuing education courses will still have the ability to take part in our educational offerings.”

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts grand museum space and private art school started life in 1805, and was originally located on 10th and Chestnut streets. PAFA relocated to its current home on Broad Street after a blaze in 1845.

PAFA is beloved for its Furness-Hewitt building design, its alumni of famed art students such as Thomas Eakins and David Lynch, and for its rare collections of unique 19th-and 20th-century American paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and multimedia projects.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Determined to Be: The Sculpture of John Rhoden, installation view of Safari.Adrian Cubillas

Despite its latest moves, Pryor believes that PAFA’s heritage remains standing and impactful, and that its future will be poignant when it comes Philadelphia artists, audiences and students.

Philadelphia mosaic artist Ellen Tiberino has a long history with PAFA. Not only did her mother, Ellen Powell Tiberino, and two brothers, artists Raphael and Gabriel, attend PAFA, Ellen taught mosaic classes there, and permanent installed an MLK-released mosaic ‘Driving Out the Darkness‘ in PAFA’s Hamilton Building.

“It’s sad that PAFA’s education programs are closing due to its financial situation at present,” said Tiberino. “But even if they didn’t have educational programs, people want to come to PAFA, attend its non-BFA and MFA classes and see its exhibitions. So, in some ways, this latest move can be seen as a path to its roots – where PAFA started – and a focus more on the art itself. “

Pryor finished the conversation about PAFA’s current plight by stating that, “it’s always difficult to make a decision that affects so many. However, I believe PAFA’s legacy of being a community of art makers and educators, preservationists and stewards, appreciators and collectors, supporters and art lovers will continue to be a source of pride and inspiration for many.”