A sculpture student works on a hanging candelabra

Photo by Nicholas Lea Bruno/CCA.

MFAFine Arts

Refine and sustain a critical art practice that’s interdisciplinary and socially engaged.


Expand your creative practice

The graduate program in Fine Arts attracts an international cohort of emerging artists to work with renowned faculty and distinguished visitors in the culturally diverse San Francisco Bay Area. Positioned within one of the top art and design colleges in the country, the two-year MFA program is characterized by a culture of critique, studio making, and social engagement. The program supports interdisciplinary practices across a variety of artistic mediums and discourses. The degree is in Fine Art, rather than in a specific medium, and students work across a broad range of forms including painting, sculpture, photography, print media, moving image, social practice, and installation. The program provides its students with the community, intellectual tools, and hands-on experience to meaningfully participate in a wide range of contemporary art contexts, both during the course of study and after graduation.

A student introduces a guest speaker at the Curatorial Research Bureau

Study in the culturally diverse Bay Area

Known for its long history of political activism and radical thinking, the Bay Area remains an epicenter of diverse and socially progressive ways of making art and imagining creative participation. Located in the heart of San Francisco, the graduate program in Fine Arts is part of an extraordinary ecosystem of art institutions—from alternative artist-run venues, to nonprofit and commercial galleries and major museums, including the college’s own premier exhibition space, the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. The curriculum is designed to encourage students to engage these resources and communities, exploring the opportunities afforded outside the studio and seminar room walls.

Studios + Shops

Immerse yourself in an artistic community

Margot Becker in her studio during MFA Open Studios

Every MFA student is provided a large, private studio in which to work. The program’s graduate studios are located just south of CCA’s San Francisco campus in the Dogpatch neighborhood, home to a vibrant network of artist spaces and cultural institutions. The graduate complex features individual studios, installation and critique spaces, communal meeting areas, and a wide range of manual and digital tools to support work and creative growth in all artistic forms.

Photography students work together to adjust camera settings and direct a photo shoot

Tailor your course of study

The program supports a wide range of interdisciplinary practices, discourses, and histories. Individual studio critique, the core curriculum, and a wide range of open electives across fields encourage experimentation and individualized in-depth research.

MFA Fine Arts students during MFA Open Studios

Collaborate with visiting artists

Close contact and collaboration with a wide range of visiting artists complements the curricular work done with program faculty. Each year, a distinguished artist teaches a month-long Residency Intensive, and the Larry Sultan Visiting Artist Program brings prominent photographers and media artists to give public presentations and engage with students annually. Recent visitors have included Judith Butler, Jibade-Khalil Huffman, Shannon Ebner, Lyle Ashton Harris, Mickalene Thomas, An-My Lê, Nairy Baghramian, Ralph Rugoff, Collier Schorr, Tania Bruguera, Deana Lawson, Walid Raad, Thomas Demand, and Kai Althoff.

Two students sit inside of a tent installation during the MFA grad show.

Make socially engaged art

The theory and practice of social engagement is a central, distinctive ethos of the MFA Fine Arts program. As home to the nation’s first Social Practice program, CCA’s graduate studies supports social engagement throughout the MFA curriculum as well as a specialized social practice workshop that focuses on urban environments, regional communities, research-based practice, or institutional structures.

CCA’s resources at your fingertips

  • Model-making shop
  • Photography studios and darkrooms
  • Foam room
  • Alternative materials shop
  • Printmaking and bookbinding equipment
  • Metalworking shop
  • Letterpress studio
  • Woodworking shop
  • Digital fabrication tools
  • Foundry and forge
  • Materials reuse center
  • Cement and plaster studio


Active professional artists, writers, and curators

The program’s distinguished faculty is composed of internationally active artists, critics, curators, and scholars. The faculty’s vast experience working with institutions and communities in many diverse art worlds gives Fine Arts graduate students a wide collective pool of expertise from which to draw as they formulate and refine their own individuated artistic position.

Kantor faculty profile photo.jpg

Jordan Kantor, Chair of MFA in Fine Arts

Chair Jordan Kantor teaches artistic practice and theory. His artwork has been shown in numerous exhibitions, nationally and internationally. In addition to his studio practice, Kantor occasionally writes essays on contemporary art subjects.


Intensive course of study

Over the course of four semesters, you’ll be immersed in research, artmaking, and collaboration. Individualized critique of studio work forms the core of the program’s curriculum. Students engage in one-on-one meetings with faculty and visitors each semester and participate in group and peer-to-peer critiques. In addition to this dialogue, students take fine art and theory seminars and open electives, offered by all 11 graduate programs. Interdisciplinary exchange characterizes the program and the discussions, and the program culminates with a written thesis and exhibition project.

To get a feel for what awaits, view sample courses.

MFA Fine Arts

Year 1: Fall Semester

Individual Studio Critique
6 units
Dialogues and Practices I
3 units
Contemporary Art History and Theory
3 units
Fine Arts Seminar or Studio Research Laboratory
3 units

Year 1: Spring Semester

Individual Studio Critique
6 units
History and Theory Elective
3 units
Dialogues and Practices II
3 units
Elective (FAS/SRL or GELCT)
3 units

Year 2: Fall Semester

Individual Studio Critique
6 units
Thesis Seminar (1.5 units)/Exhibitions Seminar (1.5 units)
3 units
Fine Arts Seminar or Studio Research Laboratory
3 units
Elective (FAS/SRL or GELCT)
3 units

Year 2: Spring Semester

Individual Studio Critique
6 units
Thesis Seminar (1.5 units)/Exhibitions Seminar (1.5 units)
3 units
Fine Arts Seminar or Studio Research Laboratory
3 units
Elective (FAS/SRL or GELCT)
3 units

Total 60 units


Creative and scholarly practitioners

MFA Fine Arts graduates participate in a wide variety of contemporary art contexts after they leave the program. They use their skills as socially engaged artists and thinkers to establish international careers as practicing professional artists, as well as to pursue an expansive array of other paths, including establishing their own collectives and exhibition spaces, teaching, critical writing, and arts administration. Notable recent alumni include Diedrick Brackens, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Sarah Hotchkiss, Carmen Winant, Zarouhie Abdalian, and Suné Woods.

Potential career paths

  • Visual artist
  • Writer and critic
  • Curator
  • Photographer
  • Filmmaker
  • Educator
  • Community activist
  • Researcher
  • Arts administrator

News + Events

What’s happening in our community?

How to Apply

Gather your strongest work for your application

Our two-year program welcomes students of all ages and backgrounds. Most have a bachelor of fine arts degree, but their areas of interest vary widely. We get excited about artists who are open-minded and eager to work in previously unfamiliar contexts. Placement in our program is largely based on the strength of your portfolio and transcripts.

Application fundamentals

You’ll need to submit three components that are common to all CCA graduate applications:

  • Resume/curriculum vitae
  • Two recommendation letters
  • Unofficial college transcripts

Additionally, you’ll submit a portfolio and personal essay that are tailored to your specific master’s program. After you submit all materials, you may be selected for an online or on-campus interview with the graduate program manager or a faculty member.

MFA Fine Arts

Visual portfolio

Your portfolio may include still images, videos, and time-based or interactive media. If you choose to submit a video or time-based media project, you must also include a five-minute sample reel that’s clearly labeled with the title, date, running time, and brief description of the work(s). Our selection committee will view your portfolio on a computer, so please make sure it adheres to the following requirements:

  • Must be uploaded to SlideRoom
  • Maximum of 15 still images
  • Maximum of 5 MB file size per image
  • Maximum of 60 MB file size per video or interactive media

Once your portfolio has been submitted via SlideRoom, no further changes can be made. Academic, personal, and professional work are all encouraged.

Personal essay

In a personal essay of 500 to 1,000 words, clearly state how your work fits within the context of a contemporary art practice and why you want to study at the master’s level. While personal essays can range in content, it’s generally good to focus on your areas of interest and any critical influences. Your personal essay must be in PDF format.

Contact our program manager with questions

Emily Shallman

Senior Program Manager of Academic Programs, Fine Arts Division

+1 415-551-9213

[email protected]

Join a studio culture focused on critique

Apply now