The city's newest art school has existing programs here sharpening their colored pencils and preparing for a showdown at the easel to attract new students.
The Art Institute of Indianapolis earlier this month launched a marketing campaign seeking students for its first classes, which start Jan. 9. The for-profit school at the Pyramids is owned by a Pittsburgh firm. It plans to offer a two-year degree in graphic design and four-year degrees in graphic design, interior design and interactive media design.
Few local schools offer degrees in interior design-Purdue University offers a two-year degree at IUPUI-but several offer graphic- and interactive-design courses and degree programs.
AI of Indianapolis plans to start out small, but could grow to occupy 50,000 square feet of space and accommodate 2,000 students, officials have said. Because it's a new campus, it's impossible to say how long that might take, but other educators are skeptical.
"I'd like to know where they're going to find 2,000 art students," said Dee Schaad, chairman of the department of art and design at the University of Indianapolis. The private school has about 110 students in its fine arts and design programs combined, he said.
Schaad and officials at Herron School of Art and Design said they don't yet know enough about AI's curriculum to be worried about competition for students and faculty. But AI officials said early interest in their programs has been strong, raising the possibility that Herron and U of I might need to further prove their mettle to a new generation of design students.
Unlike programs at Herron and U of I, students at AI don't need to take college entrance exams, although they do need to have a high school diploma or its equivalent.
That doesn't mean the classes come cheap. At the current tuition rate of $353 per credit hour, a four-year degree at AI would cost nearly $68,000. That's significantly more than at Herron, where instate tuition runs about $25,000 for a four-year degree. AI's cost is slightly less than that of U of I, a private school where a four-year degree costs about $69,000.
AI students have to take English and other core requirements, but programs are career-focused rather than liberal-arts focused, said Tony F. Mediate, president of AI of Indianapolis. At AI, that means advisory committees composed of working professionals and employers who help steer the curriculum toward what's needed in the marketplace. It also means AI focuses heavily on its job-placement rates for graduates, a figure that reaches nearly 90 percent at other AI campuses, officials said.
Of course, Herron and U of I also boast of their ability to prepare students for jobs in their fields and for graduate schools, but they don't keep statistics on placement. The two schools also have the backing of a traditional university setting and design programs rooted in fine arts training.
Herron and U of I are both accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, while AI carries the accreditation of the trade school-oriented Accrediting Commission of Career College and Colleges of Technology.
To employers, which school grants a degree doesn't seem to make much difference.
"The most important thing is the quality of the portfolio," said Susan Matthews, principal at 2Fold Design, a sister company to locally based public relations firm Borshoff Johnson Matthews.
Most applicants at 2Fold Design attended local schools, Matthews said. Schools can affect the quality of graduates' portfolios, but good talent can come from anywhere, she said.
Even though AI will be the new kid on the block, it comes with significant backing. AI of Indianapolis will be the 32nd Art Institute owned by Pittsburgh-based Education Management Corp., a publicly traded company with more than $1 billion in revenue and $100 million in profit in its most recent fiscal year.
EMC chose Indianapolis based on market studies that showed a need for more educational opportunities in graphic and interior design, Mediate said. He declined to say how many students have applied for admission, but said his office in the Pyramids has received hundreds of inquiries.
Based on the expanding market for graphic artists in the business world, that's not surprising, local educators and employers said. Graphic artists-who once worked primarily on the visual aspects of marketing materials, advertisement designs or page layouts-now are involved with a much broader range of products.
They also are increasingly part of forming comprehensive marketing strategies: how a certain Web layout will convey a company's image and work with other marketing materials, for instance.
"We're looking for talent, communication and production skills, strategic thinking and general marketing skills," said Cory Clidinst, human resources director at locally based advertising/public relations firm Hirons & Company Communications Inc.
About 10 of the firm's 70 employees are graphic artists. Clidinst said she welcomes any school that broadens the pool of job applicants.
"We appreciate any and all institutions we can draw talent from," she said.
At Herron, about 40 percent of students seek design-oriented degrees vs. fine-arts degrees, said Dean Valerie Eickmeier. Herron has offered design-oriented courses since at least the 1930s, but the programs have received more attention in the past few years.
This year, the school officially added "design" to its name, a change that "should have been done a long time ago," Eickmeier said. And as part of its move into a new building on the IUPUI campus, Herron opened a Center for Art, Design and Public Life where students and instructors can work with businesses and not-for-profits interested in using Herron students for design and public art projects.
Perhaps the biggest change in Herron's programs started three years ago, when the school hired marketing veteran Christopher Vice as its chairman of visual communication programs.
This year, Vice and his staff rolled out a curriculum for design courses that includes greater emphasis on problemsolving and cross-disciplinary teaching. For instance, all design students are now required to take a marketing course through the Kelley School of Business at IUPUI.