Ashley Garner '20: Expanding Creative Horizons

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art—more commonly known as MASS MoCA—has a highly competitive emerging artist residency program. Since 2015, over 500 artists of all kinds have called MASS MoCA home. In 2021, MFA candidate Ashley Garner ‘20 will be one of their artists in residence.

PAFA is fully funding the residency for Garner, who graduates from the MFA program this spring.

An interdisciplinary, two-year program, PAFA’s Master of Fine Arts offers students the opportunity to experiment and further discover their voice in various media. Free from traditional conventions and academic areas of study, students are able to develop their work and ideas into a sustainable, thoughtful artistic practice through one-on-one discussions with critics and faculty, as well as from their classmates.

“This program was worth it, knowledge is something no one can ever take away from you that you’ve gained here”, Garner said.

Ashley arrived at PAFA after receiving her BFA from the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, located right outside of Erie. Working in soft sculpture, site-specific installation, and painting, she examines the connections between her childhood and adulthood experiences.

“When it comes to my work, I am interested in the malleability of childhood memories [as well as] the destruction or romanticism of those memories that occur through our adulthood experiences,” Garner explains. “My choice of material also speaks to this malleability; the soft representing the memories of childhood and the rigidness of architecture as a metaphor for the way in which I was taught an adult should carry on.”

The MASS MoCA program is a great way for emerging artists to “try out” a residency due to its shorter time commitment. It also offers artists one-on-one financial and business coaching, as well as studio space, housing, and communal meals with other artists participating in the residency.

“I applied to the MASS MoCA residency because they’re focused on new media and installation art, interdisciplinary, and have really big spaces,” Garner said. “I mentioned that I wanted to expand on my material exploration in my application.”

Garner looks forward to grabbing different opportunities in her life beyond PAFA’s campus. She’s interested in teaching, being a critic, working with other artists, and any other creative opportunity that comes along.

“I want to get to the point that I can hop around to different cities and make it work,” she said, hopeful that keeping options open will allow her to keep growing both as a person and as an artist.

Garner believes that when one door closes, a bigger door opens remarking, “When you don’t get one opportunity, another one can come along and open a bigger and better door.”

—Mel Delach (

Ashley Garner, "Treasures" (2019). Installation view.
Ashley Garner, "Treasures" (2019). Installation view.
Ashley Garner, "I jumped into the wall..." (2020). Installation view.
Ashley Garner, "I jumped into the wall..." (2020). Installation view.

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.