Freshman Foundation

Studio Immersion

The foundation program is the first year of the undergraduate curriculum that brings freshman into broad-based, studio-intensive investigations in perceptual and intellectual studies. The active climate of Foundation is an immersive, transformative experience that nurtures your abilities and challenges your preconceived ideas and attitudes towards creativity.

Our 16,000 square-foot studio facility dedicated solely to freshman is the ideal place to grow and interact with gifted people of diverse backgrounds who learn to excel through independent and collaborative projects. You are closely mentored by our full-time faculty to develop the skills, attitudes, and philosophies needed to confidently pursue your artistic goals across all media and absorb yourself in the pursuit of creative excellence.



Skylar Brennan
Painting, 2018


As a student, when you enter these yellow doors, you are stepping into a professional design studio. In the fall semester studio course, students begin developing a vocabulary that is rooted in visual experience. Students learn to intellectually reason, to transcend their observations, and to link verbal and visual ideas as they witness the enjoyment of creating visual expression. Students work with one instructor throughout the semester; this mentor helps students to understand critiquing processes and self-reflection. Students encounter a range of creative challenges, including perceptual drawing, 2-D design, 3-D form investigation and time-based and mixed media investigations as avenues of communication and expression.


Spring Semester

Building on strengths and accomplishments of the fall, the spring semester presents students with entirely new learning structures. The spring semester is divided into three sequenced, five-week workshops that focus on intellectual, imagistic and process-based learning platforms. This offers students the opportunity to choose their individual paths of inquiry based on self-assessed needs and educational interests. Examples of recent workshops include Chromatic Constructions, The Woven Self, Meta-making, and Butoh and the Expressive Figure.

Foundation FACULTY

Steve Whitacre

Professor and Chair

A senior professor of art, Steve Whitacre’s long-term leadership in the Institute’s Foundation studies has earned national and international recognition. Steve’s work encompasses large sculpture and his practice of visual poetics is broad and diverse in form, image and circumstance. Whitacre’s works are held in many private collections and have been widely exhibited in this country, England, Scotland and Italy. He is often invited as a guest lecturer or critic to various institutions. He also directs a private design practice, SBW Associates, based in Kansas City, and he has been on the faculties of Ohio University and the University of Kansas School of Architecture. Whitacre studied at the Columbus College of Art and Design and earned B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees from Ohio University. His creative pathway is guided by the following statement: “For me the process of making art is an act of courage, an exploration of profoundly unclear complexities of existence. My efforts are attempts to act out my perceptions of this level of existence. However, in the context of this activity, my actions are ultimately metaphysical gestures, and often, as in my dreams, the nature of these acts are seldom fully understood but enacted with a primitive faith in their meaning.”

Chris Chapin


Professor Chapin joined KCAI in 2009, teaching a broad range of interdisciplinary studio courses in art and design. Previously, he was Professor of Communication Arts and Fine Arts at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Chapin is a career photographer, designer and arts educator with degrees in Photography, Design and Architecture. He has held lead creative posts in the private sector, and since 1996 has served as Principal and Creative Director for the California-based Parallax Design Group. Chapin has won awards in design, and has held distinguished leadership roles in arts education. His personal work combines experiences in graphic communication, photography and printmaking to shape his works of visual inquiry and communication.

Russell Ferguson

Associate Professor

KCAI faculty member since 1993, Russell Ferguson’s interests include sculpture, drawing and printmaking, with specific application of narrative drawing to the fields of painting, printmaking, scenography and illustration. His works are held in private collections regionally and internationally. Ferguson also has worked on set design for the Kansas City Ballet and the Coterie Theatre in Kansas City. Ferguson is a maker/fabricator working within the industrial milieu of the West. He holds an M.F.A. degree from Yale University and a B.F.A. degree from the Kansas City Art Institute.

Misty Gamble

Assistant Professor

Misty Gamble’s work is inspired by the human figure and its infinite capacity for communication. Gamble’s current work — life-size ceramic, figurative sculptures and installations of multiple figurative fragments — focuses attention on issues surrounding femininity and challenges posed by conventional standards of morality, normalcy and propriety. Before receiving her M.F.A. degree from San Francisco State University in the visual arts, she worked for two decades as an agent, publicist and event coordinator in music and the performing arts. See her website at

Brett Reif

Associate Professor

Brett Reif is an artist influenced by arte povera, and specializes in non-traditional media wall work, sculpture and installation. Reif is a resident artist at The Studios Inc. in Kansas City and has presented solo exhibitions at the Kansas City Artists Coalition, the Du Mois Gallery in New Orleans, the Art & Design Gallery at the University of Kansas, and The Studios Inc. Recently, his work has been presented in group exhibitions at the H&R Block Artspace and the Leedy-Volkous Art Center in Kansas City, MO, and was featured in the online magazine Reif received a BFA from Loyola University and an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Jim Sajovic


Jim Sajovic creates large-scale acrylic paintings that have been said to “seduce the eye with hidden layers and subversive complexity.” His works are held in public and private collections in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Jim’s artworks have been exhibited at galleries and museums, nationally and internationally, including New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles; Edinburgh (Scotland), Paris (France), as well as Milan, Rome, and Venice (Italy). Solo exhibitions include: Jim Sajovic: Hix Fragments & (pash’n), Todd Weiner Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri: Jim Sajovic: Evolution, Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Sedalia, Missouri; Dreamer-Ecstasy, Belger Arts Center, Kansas City, Missouri; Jim Sajovic, The Lowe Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia; Millennium Garden, The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, St. Joseph, Missouri. Sajovic’s works were also featured in: “Dream Bodies”, The Kansas City Jewish Museum; “WORD”, Nerman Gallery of Art at JCCC; and “Witness: Artists’ Perspectives on War”, The Leedy-Voulkos Art Center; The Perception of Appearance, Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Washington; Inferno, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Having earned a B.F.A. degree from the University of Illinois and an M.F.A. degree from the University of Florida, Sajovic joined the faculty at KCAI in 1971. For detail and images visit

Steve Snell

Assistant Professor

Steve Snell calls his work adventure art. This adventure and community-based practice has led him to variety of experiences, ranging from floating the Connecticut River in a couch-boat to a random encounter with Alec Baldwin while hiking across Western Massachusetts.

In 2014, Steve was an official artist-in-residence along the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska and British Columbia, which was sponsored by the National Parks Service and Parks Canada.  His work has been shown in galleries and film festivals throughout the United States, including the Aspen Shorts Fest and the Currents New Media Festival in Santa Fe. Steve earned his M.F.A. in Studio Art from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (2011) as well as a B.F.A. in Painting / B.S. in Art Education from Miami University (2006).

Sherry Sparks

Associate Professor

Sherry Sparks has particular interest, as an artist, in design, painting and photography. Her work has been included in various group shows, local galleries and in juried shows. Sparks received the Active Sponsor Award for her work in the Mid-Four Exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She is a designer with Asiatica, Ltd., in Kansas City, where she designs accessories and contributes to the fashion collection. Asiatica’s couture line is shown in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Sparks holds B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees from the University of Kansas.

Caleb Taylor

Assistant Professor, Associate Chair

Caleb Taylor earned his M.F.A. degree in painting from Montana State University-Bozeman (2008), and his B.F.A. degree from Northwest Missouri State University (2004). He was named a Charlotte Street Foundation Fellow in 2010, and he’s the recipient of the prestigious Joan Mitchell Foundation M.F.A. Grant. Additional awards include a 2009 ArtsKC Inspiration Grant and a ThinkTank Emerging Educator Fellowship. Taylor also is a founding member of PLUG Projects, a curatorial collaboration in Kansas City. PLUG is a recipient of a 2011 Rocket Grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation, Spencer Museum of Art and Charlotte Street Foundation.