Almost as important as which graduate school you choose is where that school is located. A lot is said about Baltimore's location: chiefly, that it is 3.5 hours from New York, 1.5 hours from Philadelphia and 1 hour from Washington, DC. All of that is true, but Baltimore has also become a self-realized mecca for artists, musicians and designers. We've dedicated this page to talking about the opportunities and activities that make Baltimore a destination, not a just satellite.
Like any good east coast city, Baltimore is a collection of dozens of smaller neighborhoods. As you begin to explore the city, we always recommend starting with Live Baltimore's Neighborhood Guide to get a sense of geography. MICA, including graduate housing for both full-time and low-residency graduate students, is located in Bolton Hill. Charles North (better known as Station North) is home to the Graduate Studio Center and a flurry of recent, independently-driven arts, music, theater and food activity. Mount Vernon (we don't care what the map says--Mid-Town/Belvedere is just part of Mount Vernon) is one of the most popular areas for MICA students to live off-campus. Graduate students live, work and exhibit all over the city, but these three neighborhoods are the triangle around MICA's campus.
It is near impossible to summarize all of the opportunities and activities in Baltimore in a single page. So to give you a very rough introduction to our fair city, we've listed and answered some of the most frequently asked questions below in no particular order:
What is the arts scene like in Baltimore?
Independent and excellent. Over the last five years, a few things have happened to kick the visual arts scene into overdrive. First, a portion of our graduate alumni began staying and working in Baltimore. Second, inexpensive cost of living compared to DC, Philly and New York brought a new crop of artists to town. Third, there's been a renaissance of venues--generally artist-run--to support the scene. Check out the Showspace tumblr for an epic listing of Baltimore venues and events. MICA's main site also offers a stately listing of art spaces, including the major museums like the Baltimore Museum of Art, Walters Art Museum and the American Visionary Arts Museum.
Here's a really small curated list of some of our favorite venues/organizations:
- Annex Theater
- Area 405
- Bell Foundry
- Current Space
- Gallery CA
- ICA Baltimore
- Metro Gallery
- National Great Blacks in Wax Museum
- Spur Propaganda
- The Contemporary
- Wham City
What types of opportunities are there for artists and designers in Baltimore?
Baltimore has a different feel from cities like New York and even Washington DC because there is less emphasis on upscale gallery representation--the scene is more community- and artist-driven. If you've looked at some of the links above, you can see some of the communal, DIY, tireless ethic that drives Baltimore's art scene. More than that, there are excellent support opportunities for artists and designers as they finish their graduate education: The Baker Artist Awards and Sondheim Prize are great examples. And that doesn't count grants for exiting students offered through MICA, like the Walter's Traveling Fellowship & LAB Awards.
For designers, the Center for Design Practice and Social Design program have been revolutionizing design in Baltimore. They have created opportunities for designers to have an impact on the operation of a major city like Baltimore.
Baltimore is also home to numerous MICA graduate alumni: the ability to connect with and learn from them can be invaluable.
What is the cost of living like in Baltimore?
That's always a tough question, because it always a comparison. There are some good online cost of living calculators (Expatisan is our favorite--it is truly global in scale) that will help you compare where you are living now (and other cities you're researching for graduate school) and Baltimore.
Do I need a car to get around Baltimore?
The short answer is no, although Baltimore is a relatively easy city in which to have a car. Baltimore is small, and the area surrounding MICA is relatively compact. In fact, Walk Score calls Baltimore the 10th most walk-able city in the US (the neighborhood of Mount Vernon earns the prestigious "Walkers Paradise" label). Additionally, a recent uptick in bike lanes and a large number of student bikers make bicycling a great transit option as well. Baltimore's is also home to sprawling bus lines (including the free-to-ride Charm City Circulator) that can be tricky to learn but will take you almost anywhere.
Bringing a car with you to graduate school does have some benefits, even if it is only for the occasional run to Home Depot for supplies. Residential Parking Permits for street parking are available for all neighborhoods and only cost about $20 for the year--so bringing a vehicle is manageable.
Should I live on-campus or off-campus?
For low-residency students coming from outside Baltimore, we definitely recommend taking advantage of the on-campus housing for the 6 week residencies--although it is not required. For full-time students, MICA has very limited on-campus housing options, and we tend to prioritize international students (and others coming from great distances) when it comes to housing assignments. Baltimore is a largely residential city with many students, so finding off-campus housing can be very easy. We talk about how to research both options on our housing page, but we definitely recommend at least doing some general research on living off-campus because there are some great options available for students.
Is Baltimore safe?
Like any major city, Baltimore has crime. And, as with all major cities, there is no way to be 100% safe. That said, MICA is located in central Baltimore--a part of the city with the lowest crime rates. Additionally, Campus Safety runs patrols through MICA and surrounding areas as well as operating evening and nighttime shuttles. Located near two other major universities (University of Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University), the areas surrounding MICA have a good deal of student foot traffic at all hours. The combination of these factors mean that our students--who come from all over the world--do generally feel safe. If you have concerns about urban safety in general, we definitely recommend talking to our current students or directly with the Office of Campus Safety.
If I can't visit Baltimore before I start school, what do you recommend?
The best thing to do to learn more about Baltimore--what to do, where to eat, where to live--is to talk to your faculty and classmates. Because Baltimore is small, friendly and accessible, you can learn a lot about the city in a very short amount of time. Plus, much of the faculty and staff have been living in Baltimore for a long time, so they can be great resources for information about everything from where to get your hair cut to where to get a cheap dinner. We've always loved how generous most Baltimoreans are with their time and knowledge, so take advantage.
Alternatively, you can watch this 1 hour and 20 minute handheld video taken by a man riding the entirety of Baltimore's Light Rail. We're not sure what exactly you'll learn. Spoilers: He gets a nice shot of MICA's Brown Center and Fox Building around 41:05.