A Veteran’s Guide to VCUarts

Freshman Guide - Web Image

It’s no secret that art school is a scam. But with just a few simple pointers, you too can make the most out of your ever-increasing tuition and create art so amazing, the 600 other Art Foundation students in your year have no other choice but to lie down and cry. 

In the spirit of generosity, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks that will help you survive your first two semesters here at VCUarts. You can also use the inevitable success you’ll achieve after following my advice as proof to your dad that getting a fine arts degree is actually going really, really well!

  1. Bring Less Clothes, Bring More Art Supplies

Bring all of the art supplies you have. Artists must be pack-rats bordering on hoarders. Keep all the cardboard you can find, scrounge for scraps of wood and wash all your paint brushes. If someone leaves tape out and doesn’t come back for it, that’s your tape now. Also, you don’t need four winter coats. 

Plaza Artist Materials at 927 W Grace St, Richmond, VA 23220
  1. Be Nice to Plaza Employees

The Plaza on Grace Street controls whether you live or die. It is your Mecca and Medina, your Holy Grail, your end-all-be-all. Do not be rude to the workers. It is considered uncool and makes you look like a meanie.

Put things back in the right place, ask for help when you need it, and sign up for a Plaza Savings Card. They can also order supplies for you in advance if they don’t have something in stock, so just ask! I bought an electric eraser there once and felt like Inspector Gadget. 

  1. If You Jaywalk, Do It Safely

Don’t do it on Broad Street. Don’t do it if you can clearly see a car coming. Don’t look at your phone. Don’t be stupid. 

  1. Text Your Classmates!

Be the overly friendly person that asks everyone for their Instagram. It’s much better to be perceived as outgoing, no matter how fake you might feel in the beginning, than it is to spend months languishing in your own self-imposed loneliness.

I know it’s intimidating to be around all of your cool-looking, vaguely queer and ambiguously alternative classmates who dress like pirates and listen to the Cocteau Twins on vinyl, but we’re all just here to make art. We learn much more from people when we aren’t worried about impressing them—or making snap judgements about them based on how they look.

Everyone in Art Foundation is in the exact same boat. You all have to draw naked people, learn how to operate saws and generally keep your heads above water. Don’t discount the value of your peers; they’ll be your friends and coworkers in the future.

Lockers available for you to hide away your projects, supplies, and tears.
  1. Leave Your Supplies at Bowe Street 

Every time I see a dead-eyed freshman dragging their drawing portfolio up Broad St., a part of me dies. I too was a victim of this Sisyphean scam! Until I realized that you can leave literally everything at Bowe Street and no one cares.

Snag a locker and store your supplies there. Stick your Space projects on the shelf. Find an empty file cabinet in one of the drawing classrooms and leave all—yes all—of your Drawing projects there. (Obviously if everyone did this, there’d be no more secret file cabinets, so keep this under the radar.) 

Filing drawers in the Drawing studio classrooms that you can commandeer for personal storage.

If you want to lug projects home and work on them in your dorm, that’s your prerogative. I won’t judge you, but I will pity you when it rains. 

  1. CLEAN UP!

Good advice always comes with caveats. If you follow the advice of Tip #5, you must also follow Tip #6. If you’re working on your art in Bowe Street—during class, right before, or in the dead of night at 3 a.m—you must clean up.

You must put your supplies back in your locker, your projects away, and your trash in the big gray receptacles that are conveniently labeled “AFO,” just in case you forgot where you were. You must take your water bottle and your snack wrappers, your pencil shavings and your painter’s tape, and you must leave the room as empty as the line at Steak N’ Shake. If you don’t, you are disrespecting the ghosts that frequent the third floor of the parking garage and they will haunt you forever.

Bowe Street Parking Deck: Your new home for the next nine-ish months. Keep it clean.
  1. Apply for Stuff!

Grants, scholarships, awards, oh my! VCUarts has cash to burn, and you must milk them for every single penny.

VCU has an online portal called the Scholarship Hub that aggregates all scholarship opportunities, with varying deadlines depending on the award. Login, look around and apply. Every year, there’s Dean’s International Research Grants, Travel Grants and a whole host of department-specific opportunities for baby artists just like you to fly out of the nest and spend real, paper money.

Read all of the emails from AFO, your professors and the school. You miss every shot you don’t take, and chances are there’s shots being thrown at you from every direction if you know where to look.

  1. Take Off Your Headphones 

I wasn’t going to poop my own party this late in the game, but we have something very serious to discuss. You are probably an iPad baby. I say this not with shame and vitriol, but with understanding. I see you; you see me. We both need to have YouTube open while we eat food and fall asleep with our phones under our pillows. It’s doing irreparable damage to our corneas and our brains, but there’s not much we can really do about it at this point… Or is there? 

There is. There is something you can do. See, I asked a question to build some suspense but I’ve already told you the answer: take off your headphones.

Tip #8 has some caveats, of course. Music is not poison and headphones are not the devil’s vile instruments. If listening to Olivia Rodrigo while you walk out of your mold-infested dorm helps brighten your day, then who am I to begrudge you a good time?

But your life doesn’t need a soundtrack all the time. Sometimes you have to touch grass, or… hear it? Whatever.

Let your eyes and ears be open to the world as you walk in it. You’re not above or below anything; you’re right alongside it! Don’t do yourself the disservice of muffling all your senses and drowning out the life you now get to live.

Every so often, you have to be okay with awkward silences. It’s in the space between conversations that people come to you for advice, tell you they like your hair or wave at you to say hi. Letting your ears be naked—the horror!—signals to the world you’re ready to greet it.

“Come to me!” you metaphorically scream out when you don’t have headphones on. “Approach me! Share in my youthful camaraderie!” 

  1. Relish in the excitement and whimsy of college life

Soon someone cool and amazing will approach you, and you can have a cool and amazing conversation like, “Can you text me pictures of your art history notes? Thanks girlie, love you. What’s your Instagram? Oh sick, you’re in my Space Research class, too! I love sharing experiences with another open-minded peer! Isn’t human connection wonderful? Haha okay, see you on Monday!”

After following all the above advice, you can go “Wow, I’m sure glad I had that exchange of pleasantries with a classmate I would otherwise not have noticed if I was blaring my experimental shoegaze cinema soundscape music! Life is so beautiful and I am free! I love being an Art Foundation student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. I’m so glad I followed the advice I read about in INK Magazine.”

Then you’ll walk to Shafer Dining Hall to eat mediocre bread sticks and mediocre salad, but with the satisfaction of knowing you are making friends and being a bona fide college student.