[caption id="attachment_223121" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Guests explore the DCAD’s newest gallery, featuring the works of Valetta, during an April gala. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ADAM GIERKE PHOTOGRAPHY[/caption]
WILMINGTON – It was 25 years ago that the then-Wilmington Renaissance Corp. was searching for ways to invigorate the downtown culture and draw new visitors to the city center.On a trip to Savannah, Ga., they saw how the Savannah College of Art and Design had left a lasting impression and sought to replicate the idea, issuing a request for proposals to open a new college in Wilmington.Responding to the opportunity were two well-known institutions, the Pratt Institute in New York City and the Corcoran School of Design in Washington, D.C., which agreed to partner on curriculum, faculty and programming on what became the Delaware College of Art and Design. It opened on Market Street in 1997, graduating its first class two years later.
[caption id="attachment_223122" align="alignleft" width="300"] DCAD President Jean Dahlgren | PHOTO COURTESY OF DCAD[/caption]
The college has since become ingrained in Delaware’s arts scene, hosting exhibits for emerging and established artists while training the next generation. With six full-time program chairs, 25 staff members and dozens of part-time professors, DCAD is a “small but mighty” presence in Wilmington’s city center, DCAD President Jean Dahlgren said.Its journey changed in 2014, when the Middle States Commission on Higher Education directed DCAD to become independent of its founding partners.“We've been redefining ourselves ever since,” Dahlgren explained, noting that the pathway to entry into Pratt or Corcoran was a driver for enrollment in the early years.While DCAD saw a number of international and out-of-state students previously, today about 60% of the school’s 125 students are from Delaware, and many more are from surrounding states. The school’s presence helps keep talented artists in the state, rather than losing them to faraway schools where they’d be less likely to return after graduation, Dahlgren added.Although DCAD is now independent, it has been strengthening its relationships with regional partners like Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art and Design and the University of the Arts, and the Pennsylvania College of Art Design in Lancaster, Pa., Dahlgren said. She has also been discussing the possibility of re-establishing firmer ties with Pratt.“I think a lot of relationships that maybe languished a little bit can be repaired and strengthened,” she said.DCAD offers Associate of Fine Arts degrees in five disciplines: animation, fine arts, graphic design, illustration, and photography – it dropped a program in interior design a few years ago. Dahlgren is working to begin offering new programs soon, and hopes to announce one this summer. The school is also exploring the ability to begin offering four-year bachelor’s degrees for the first time, although no plans have been made yet, she said.“The opportunities that we have as the only accredited art and design school by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design really gives us the cachet to offer some majors that you know might not be at UD or WilmU,” she said.
[caption id="attachment_223120" align="alignleft" width="300"] Guests enjoy the alumni and friends small art show, which helped raised funds during the event. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ADAM GIERKE PHOTOGRAPHY[/caption]
Part of DCAD’s appeal, like many regional or community schools, is its comparably cheaper tuition rate, currently sitting at about $25,000 a year. A year at the University of the Arts costs about double that rate.“We do the hardest part of college education in those first few years. We get them road tested, and give them a GPA and a portfolio, and then they're extremely successful when they transfer,” Dahlgren said.While some parents may not understand the opportunities that can open with an arts degree, Dahlgren said the career path has become easier to enter.“There's never been more money in art and design than there is presently,” she said, pointing to the exploding marketplace of social media influencers and brand designers. “A lot of our students will also do two years in graphic design and then they might go on and do a business degree too.”As it celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, DCAD has set a fundraising goal of $1 million, which would largely support student scholarships – about 90% of students receive federal aid to attend.“For some families, it's really a matter of a few thousand dollars that they need to put their student in student housing or to buy art supplies or to get a new laptop, and that can be the difference between them coming and not coming. So those are things that we think we can bridge the gap on,” Dahlgren said.It’s also spending the year planning construction of a new student center thanks to a nearly $500,000 donation from the Crystal Trust Foundation. Dahlgren said the school was still reviewing whether the communal space would be located in the 707 Residence Hall, the main building or elsewhere.Finally, DCAD is planning a variety of exhibitions and programs to celebrate the anniversary, including a show by sculptor Timothy Duffield, opening May 20; a retrospective on well-known local artist Connie Simon this fall, and a potential projection mapping project at Rodney Square, where the school would use the grand façades of the buildings to tell stories of the city. To track programs, go to dcad.edu/25Dahlgren said she’s excited that DCAD is in Wilmington amid its rising revitalization, and she hopes to keep the arts a prominent part of it.“While the focus it seems these days is all about STEM, I emphasize the importance of our artistic and cultural institutions. When you come to Wilmington, arguably you don't go to the chemistry labs, right? STEM is important to the state. But culture is important to tourists, and having those institutions available and having that role in the community is important,” she added.