World-Renowned Artists Brought to PAFA By Student Group

When the sign-up sheet for a Visiting Artists Program critique is sent around, students often rush to sign up for one-on-one time with artists such as Amy Sherald, Njideka Akunyili, and Cosmo Whyte.

The Visiting Artists Program is completely student-run and brings an outstanding roster of local, national and international artists to PAFA each semester. MFA students Chelsea Nader, Samantha Sanders, and Rachel Means coordinated the 2017-2018 program.


  • Amy Sherald (center) meets with students after the Visiting Artists Program lecture.
    Amy Sherald (center) meets with students after the Visiting Artists Program lecture.

The second year MFA students balance a full course load at PAFA with the added responsibility of coordinating 17 artist lectures and in-studio critiques for their peers.

“It’s an opportunity for the three of us to get together and build a roster of all different types of artists, whether it’s installation or video, representational or abstract painting, or a multimedia artist who comes and interacts with the community and give crits to students,” Samantha Sanders said.

Before each school year, the Visiting Artists Program coordinators survey students and faculty about whom they’d like see as part of the upcoming year’s program. Coordinators then narrow the final list down and the process of inviting artists begins.

“We go through the artists that the students had been pushing for, or an artist we knew had something PAFA doesn’t usually have and could be really dynamic to have here, or people that are in dialogue with PAFA’s history,” Sanders said. “You get a lot of no's but you do get those great yeses.”

Those yeses lead to artist lectures, studio critiques and lunch with a select group of students.

“We talk about their careers, how they got started, what they’re interested in, who’s inspiring them currently, and we talk about regular everyday life stuff,” said coordinator Chelsea Nader.

Lunch with the visiting artist gives students who were unable to secure an in-studio critique time with the artist. But for those students who get lucky, the half-hour private critique is a cherished opportunity.

“I think it’s important that somebody you admire is invited into your studio. That has a different kind of weight than maybe the crits we get on a weekly basis and can kind of do over if we need to,” Nader said. “This is a one-off, and to be able to speak with somebody that you idolize can be really powerful, really damaging, it can be all of those things.”

Coordinator Rachel Means has been critiqued by artists Polly Apfelbaum and Joshua Clayton. For her critique with Apfelbaum, Means showed her an installation she was working on

“It was all so exciting to have an installation artist look at the installation I had been doing, because we don’t have many installation people like that here right now,” she said. “It was nice to have someone who does that in their own practice and has been successful in that see my work and say it’s nice.”

Not all of the visiting artists perfectly align with the work being made by students at PAFA. The coordinators say those visits are often the most impactful.

Sanders said a visit from video artist Joshua Clayton was completely refreshing.

“We had to send out emails and go face-to-face with our peers and say, ‘We have spaces open’ and say ‘I’m telling you, this person is really great’ and then after all that the work pays off people said, ‘That crit was amazing, their talk was really amazing, I wish I had known about them before,’” Sanders said.

The student coordinators say the rewards of running the program far outweigh the work that goes into producing the events. They are making invaluable connections with artists and are proud to help their fellow students develop and grow.

“I think it’s kind of refreshing for students because we have our consistent critics here and they’re great, but I think it’s nice to have someone come in and see your work differently, as opposed to someone who is so used to seeing what you’re doing,” Means said. “It’s refreshing to get different feedback and see your work differently than you had before.”

—LeAnne Matlach (

Learn more about the Visiting Artists Program