Summer Academy Allows High School Students to Try Art School

An art education at PAFA can begin long before students enroll in the BFA or MFA Program.

The summer camp program and Family Arts Academy helps children as young as 4, explore art making and how to express themselves. The After School Art Program offers free art classes for high school students in Philadelphia. The weekly classes are often the only art education opportunities some public school students have.

For students looking to strengthen their art practice, PAFA’s Summer Academy offers high schoolers a five-week, college-level art-making experience in the nation’s first and premier school of art.

Kate McCanney, a rising senior at Haddonfield Memorial High School in New Jersey, spent her summer at the Summer Academy.

“I was looking around at programs for the summer and this seemed like the best opportunity for me because a lot of the people here are amazing to work with and people are always helping you,” she said at the end of the summer exhibition for Summer Academy students. “You have a lot of really talented people and the facilities are like I’ve never seen so it’s really incredible.”

Many students see Summer Academy as the opportunity to "try out" art school or an art major, to better plan for their college experience and beyond. 

While McCanney knows she wants to attend PAFA after she graduates, other students like Jake Weinstein are still deciding what their path after high school will be.

“I don’t think I’m going to go to art school but maybe an art-focused school,” he said. “Maybe a school with an art program, I’m not sure yet.”

The Hatford School for Boys students studied at PAFA this past spring taking acrylic and oil painting classes as part of the Saturday Classes for High School Students.

“I felt like Summer Academy would be a good opportunity to fill out my portfolio,” Weinstein said.

A strong portfolio not only increases chances for acceptance to a student's school of choice but also may be taken into consideration for scholarship awards. 

The Summer Academy is modeled after PAFA's own undergraduate first-year arts curriculum.

At the Summer Academy’s Exhibition Reception, Kate McCanney was able to show off the diverse work she created in the program. Her wall of work featured self-portraits, cast drawings and illustrations of tarot cards. She says her work is very graphic and straight to the point; she’s always looking for meaning.

“I did tarot cards because I think it’s interesting how there’s a lot of meaning within them,” she said. “For example, the one I did was about imagination and creativity and joy and happiness. That’s how I feel when I’m here and doing work, and that’s important to me.”

The commitment to creating art is what brought Safiya Wharton to PAFA for Summer Academy. 

During the school year she attends CAPA, Philadelphia’s public high school for creative and performing arts. She says her classmates are engaged in the arts but she came to PAFA looking for more serious studying.

“This is different from CAPA because I feel like having to pay for a program makes people who come here more grateful and more focused,” she said. “Everyone is driven in the classroom here, this is different. Everyone is on point with everything.”

The weekly schedule for students rotates between classes focusing on drawing, painting, sculpture, and printmaking. Once a week students visit museums in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and New York City.

For McCanney, Summer Academy gave her the opportunity to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time. She was also able to try printmaking for the first time.

“I really, really fell in love with printmaking,” she said. “I just think it’s so interesting how even though they’re all the same and replicated, each one is a little bit different. That’s fascinating to me.”

The opportunity to try new things was a big draw for Wharton.

“The teachers are all helping you and are super nice,” she said. “The program is really teaching you to be connected to your art and allowing you to grow.”

Kate McCanney, a PAFA Summer Academy student.
Kate McCanney, a PAFA Summer Academy student.
Jake Weinstein, a PAFA Summer Academy student.
Jake Weinstein, a PAFA Summer Academy student.
Safiya Wharton, a PAFA Summer Academy student.
Safiya Wharton, a PAFA Summer Academy student.
Work featured in the PAFA Summer Academy exhibition.
Work featured in the PAFA Summer Academy exhibition.

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.