Foundation is a year-long immersive experience that prepares first-year students to fully and rigorously engage a creative life. Students learn to be resourceful, take chances and explode expectations. They’ll grow through engagement with people who have differing experiences, worldviews, and abilities, as well as learn to constructively critique their own work and that of others.

Students will be introduced to a studio intensive environment where they engage art and design work from perceptual, material, historical and critical perspectives. KCAI’s Foundation year is all about transformation – of the individual and the creative process. It’s a time where students begin to challenge preconceived ideas about art and design, expand their perspectives, learn to collaborate and be active and compassionate members of a creative community, develop a studio work ethic and advance their artistic goals with the solid support of peers and mentors.


Skylar Brennan
Painting, 2018


From the moment students walk through the Foundation studio doors, they enter a professional arena of art and design. They work in large industrial studio spaces that serve only first year students. These warehouse-like studios can be shaped to support various creative processes, and accommodate different materials and scales of work. They can be transformed into projection spaces, environmental installations, life drawing studios, and fabrication facilities. Every Foundation student has a dedicated work and storage space.


The Fall semester in Foundation is dedicated to the development of essential, shared, critical vocabularies and skills that define all art and design disciplines. Students learn to transcend  literalism, to link verbal, visual and spatial ideas; to experiment and fail–and try again; and to work through many different creative processes. Students work intensively with up to three faculty mentors who offer a variety of challenges in the primary components of the first semester curriculum: perception+observation, visual forces+expanded media and image+form. Students spend four hours a day, four days a week in studio, and have access to their studio spaces during extensive open-studio hours.


The Spring semester in Foundation is divided into three five-week workshops that change from year to year and are designed to complement the Fall Foundation experience. Students are able to choose among these workshops to structure their semester in a way that supports their needs and interests. All workshops share some common threads, including visualizing, imagining, conceptualizing, collaborating, problem-solving, developing material sensitivities, exploring production strategies, and deepening standards for one’s work and work ethic.

The Foundation year includes a Foundation Seminar, which introduces students to alumni, artists and activists from the Kansas City region, the KCAI major departments and faculty, and resources both on and off-campus.

During the Foundation year, students are also oriented to the Central Shop (woodworking), Beals Studios (digital fabrication) and the Print Center (digital design and output).


The KCAI Foundation Department is distinct from other Foundation programs because it offers:

  • Dedicated Foundation studios
  • Faculty mentors who are accomplished, practicing artists committed to Foundation
  • A diverse Foundation faculty and student body
  • 16 contact hours of studio per week
  • A collaborative, inclusive, intensive and experimental environment that supports ambitious
    ideas and production
  • A flexible, interdisciplinary curricular model that supports the individual interests of each
  • Independent work and storage spaces for all Foundation students
  • Connection to an extensive alumni network
  • Energetic, supportive and talented staff members

Foundation Resources

Access the current Foundation student portal on MyKCAI. Be sure to log in using your KCAI credentials.


Samantha Krukowski

Associate Professor and Sosland Family Chair in Foundation Studies

Samantha Krukowski is an artist, author and educator. Trained as an architect and art historian, she engages an interdisciplinary and intermodal practice that explores the nature of images and objects, the records of experience, the identity of place and the consequences of intervention. Her first book, Playa Dust: Collected Stories from Burning Man (Black Dog Publishing, 2014) was a compilation of untold tales about the event and impermanent city that appear and disappear annually in the Nevada desert. Her current writing project, T-Squared: Theories and Tactics in Architecture and Design (Intellect Press, 2021), reveals some the theoretical structures that inform curricula, and presents a series of projects and project prompts that are derived from them. Krukowski’s experimental videos have screened at hundreds of national and international film festivals; her drawings, paintings and sculptural works have been exhibited nationally and internationally.

Prior to joining the Kansas City Art Institute, she was a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati (School of Design), Iowa State University (Department of Architecture), and the University of Texas at Austin (Department of Radio-Television-Film). She has been involved with foundations education for twenty years and has taught studios, seminars and lecture courses in architecture, art, design, art and architectural history. She taught the first academic studio course ever taught at Burning Man in 2010.

Over the last year, she and her partner have been working to renovate a derelict property in Northside, a tightly gridded Cincinnati neighborhood. This property, with three buildings situated on 1/3 acre, was once the site of the Brazel Novelty Company. Discoveries during the renovation included mummified possums, commies (Civil War clay marbles, so named because they were common), iron jacks and painted porcelain doll heads.

Krukowski received her B.A. in Political Science at Barnard College/Columbia University (1988), M.A. in Art History at Washington University in St. Louis (1992), March at The University of Texas at Austin (1997) and Ph.D in Art History at The University of Texas at Austin (1999). She has one daughter, two horses, and two dogs.

Steve Snell

Associate 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).


Hugh Merrill


Hugh Merrill, who joined the KCAI faculty in 1976, has had solo exhibitions at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, as well as many other galleries and museums. He has been a visiting artist at over 50 universities and colleges internationally. Merrill has received National Endowment for the Arts grants, a Virginia Museum Fellowship, a Yaddo/Hand Hollow Fellowship, a Mellon Foundation Grant, and an Alliance of Independent Art Schools Faculty Grant in support of his work. He received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the Southern Graphics Council 2007. Merrill earned a B.F.A. degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and an M.F.A. degree from the School of Art and Architecture at Yale University.


Rodrigo Carazas Portal

AICAD Fellow

Rodrigo Carazas Portal was born in Lima and raised in the Callao Province of Peru. He studied in the art department at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, and later relocated to the U.S.A in 2009. Carazas earned his BFA from George Mason University’s School of Art in 2015. Also, he holds a MFA in Curatorial Practice from the Maryland Institute College of Art/MICA (class of 2020). Recent awards include the Graduate Merit Scholarship MICA (2018-2020), the Meyerhoff Fellowship (2019), [R.A.T] Fellowship -Mexico City (2019), the Best New Project Prize -Lima Biennial Art/“ABLi” (2016), and the Academic Excellence Distinction in Sculpture (GMU, 2015).

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

Associate Professor

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.


Adjunct Faculty

Rachel Ferber


Rachel Ferber is an artist, designer, and educator based in Kansas City, MO. Her work explores the performative nature of bodies, spaces, and things. She uses video, sculpture, and performance to call out the absurd, shortsighted, and harmful realities of the culture of consumption, and to question the notion of autonomy under capitalism. Ferber holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, and a BFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art. She is also one half of the art and design initiative, NEW NEW NEW — an ongoing project with her partner, Adam Lucas. Ferber has held solo and group exhibitions across the United States.

Joey Grimm


Andrew Mcilvaine


Andrew Mcilvaine is a Mexican-American painter, sculptor, and multimedia installation artist born in San Antonio, Texas. His work primarily explores the notions of displacement and replacement. Through narrative based work Mcilvaine seeks to uncover the effects that personal and cultural traumas have on shaping memory and identity. Mcilvaine earned a BA in studio art from University of Missouri – Kansas City, where he was mentored by renowned artists Davin
Watne, Ricky Allman, and Barry Anderson, all who remain very influential to his personal practice. Mcilvaine then earned his MFA with an emphasis in painting and drawing from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis where he held the Danforth Scholarship for his continual commitment to community outreach and education. While at WashU he was mentored by prominent artists including Michael Byron, Jamie Adams, and Denise Ward-Brown. Since earning his MFA Mcilvaine has held positions at Metropolitan Community College of Kansas City and UMKC teaching courses such as drawing, printmaking, color theory, design foundations, and art history. Mcilvaine has shown at the regional and national level both in gallery and museum settings.

Student Work