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 engross yourself in the pursuit of creative excellence.






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, 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 a student 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.  It offers the opportunity for students 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.”


Jean Schmitt

Assistant Professor

Jean Ormaza’s artwork is informed by her musical background and includes large-scale drawing, sculpture, sound and moving image.  She enjoys combining travel, art, and teaching. So far, projects have taken her to the streets of Quito, deep into the Amazon and to other locations throughout South America. Primarily, Ormaza is interested in the ways in which art and storytelling can build cultural empathy. Her recent educational project centers around creative exchanges that bridge gaps between distinct world-views, with the goal of stimulating new ways of thinking. Jean taught at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Northeastern University.  She received her B.F.A from Alfred University and her M.F.A .from Vermont College.  

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).


Russell Ferguson


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.


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.

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.


Christopher Spaw

Assistant Professor

Christopher Spaw has over 10 years experience in teaching architectural studios, seminars, and lectures. He also has over 20 years experience in architectural practice. With extensive a background in design + build experience he is able to communicate design processes in a complete form. The need to build, to make, to design, and explore is what drives his process. Believing that the art of making and the creative act of discovery reveals the greatest potential of a project. He is a design principle and Co-owner of boxlab, an award winning design studio and showroom in Manhattan, Kansas. In addition to regional projects in Kansas and Missouri, Christopher has also collaborated with international architecture firms with projects in Mexico and Norway. Christopher earned his Master of Architecture from Kansas State University in 2005 as well as a Bachelor of Architecture from Kansas State University in 1997.

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