How to Choose a Performance Art School

While most schools don't generally offer programs specifically in performance art, programs in performing arts, interdisciplinary art and fine arts sometimes offer performance art concentrations. A wide variety of undergraduate and graduate fine arts, performing arts and cultural studies programs offer opportunities for students to engage in performance art.

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Performance art is a relatively new art form with its roots in 19th and early 20th century experimental art; aside from performing arts, interdisciplinary art and fine arts programs, other schools have programs in inter-arts performance, inter-related media or visual art/expanded media that focus on performance art. Educational programs incorporate elements of set design, visual art, choreography, composition, technology, dance, collaborative presentation, theatre and music.

Top Ten Schools with Performance Arts Programs

This list of colleges and universities identifies some of the most reputable schools offering performance arts programs.

College/University Location Institution Type Degrees Offered Tuition (2015-2016)*
California Institute of the Arts Valencia, CA private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral Undergraduate $43,986; Graduate $43,400
Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate $50,665; Graduate $40,625
Columbia University-New York New York, NY private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral Undergraduate $53,000; Graduate $42,280
Cranbrook Academy of Art Bloomfield Hills, MI private, not-for-profit, 4 year Master's $33,406
Maryland Institute College of Art Baltimore, MD private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's, Graduate Certificates Undergraduate $43,870; Graduate $42,280
Rhode Island School of Design Providence, RI private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate $45,840; Graduate $45,530
School of the Art Institute of Chicago Chicago, IL private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate $43,960; Graduate $45,810
University of California-Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA public, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate In-state $12,763; Undergraduate Out-of-state $37,471; Graduate In-state $11,220; Graduate Out-of-state $26,322
Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA public, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate In-state $12,772; Undergraduate Out-of-state $31,464; Graduate In-state $10,710; Graduate Out-of-state $21,933
Yale University New Haven, CN private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral Undergraduate $47,600; Graduate $38,700

Sources: *National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

School Selection Criteria

Programs are available at liberal and performing arts colleges and universities across the U.S. Here are some considerations for choosing a program in performing arts:

  • Students may want to consider schools with performing arts programs that closely match their interests, such as dance or theater.
  • Students interested in the technical and artistic skills needed for incorporating multimedia or digital imagery elements into his or her work should look for schools with access to state-of-the-art technology.
  • Students should look for schools that offer capstone design projects, opportunities for intercultural studies in other countries, artist residencies, portfolio reviews, exhibition opportunities and other practical opportunities.
  • Not all schools offer undergraduate and graduate studies in the same areas of specialization, so students may want to consider if they can specialize in the same area for both undergraduate and graduate study.

Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Fine Arts

A Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree program might require an audition, a portfolio or both for admission. Programs that closely match the interests of performance art students might be called expanded media, interrelated media, interarts performance, culture and performance or similar names. Students can take elective courses in contemporary dance, political performance art and improvisation.

Master of Arts/Master of Fine Arts

Master's degree programs also have diverse names, such as performance studies or interdisciplinary arts. A graduate program might terminate with a written thesis, a portfolio, a performance or a project designed for exhibition. Students entering these programs need a strong background in the fine arts and can expect to spend 2-3 years completing the program. Coursework is typically individualized toward a student's area of concentration. Some students have gone on to earn doctoral degrees in performance studies, dance, theatre or music.

While performance art is not a common area of study, there are several 4-year public and private colleges and universities that offer performing arts programs that incorporate this field. These programs, offered at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels, feature various options for specialization.

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