Kentucky College of Art and Design graduated its first Bachelor of Fine Arts class Tuesday night during a ceremony at the Woman’s Club of Louisville.

“It’s a big deal. It’s an enormous step,” KyCAD president Moira Scott Payne said. “And we’re extremely excited and proud of those students.”

KyCAD became an independent arts college in fall 2018 when the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education granted the school a conditional license, allowing it to award BFA in Studio Art degrees. The college had resided within Spalding University for about eight years.

The first KyCAD BFA graduates, three students total, included installation artist Jada Lynn Dixon.

“It was very exciting, kind of surreal, and a bit bittersweet,” Dixon, 50, said of graduating after beginning classes at KyCAD in early 2019.

KyCAD's first BFA graduates from left to right: MacKenzie Taylor, Austin Kopp and Jada Lynn Dixon.KyCAD

KyCAD’s first BFA graduates from left to right: MacKenzie Taylor, Austin Kopp and Jada Lynn Dixon.

“I’ve always made art, even from the age of 4 years old. And what KyCAD has done is filled in the blanks for me, and helped me push my art forward,” she continued.

Art educator Churchill Davenport, the school’s chancellor, founded KyCAD in 2009. It began in the basement of 21c Museum Hotel. 

KyCAD’s degree program is currently unaccredited, which it’s transparent about on its website. Students at unaccredited colleges and universities are ineligible for federal student loans and unable to easily transfer credits to accredited higher education institutions. 

The website lists full-time tuition for the 2021-2022 academic year as $24,000 and part-time tuition as $800 per credit hour, plus living expenses. To offset those costs, KyCAD offers partial and full scholarships. 

Dixon, who received a scholarship, said she wasn’t deterred by the school not being accredited. 

“I wanted to be there because of the art. I wanted to be there because of the community,” she said. “I didn’t get the sense there would be any inaptness… any problems with the program.” 

Scott Payne said they are working toward getting accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, or SACSCOC.

“We can say we’re on our journey and in the process… we’re hopeful in our hearts and moving forward,” she said.

Pursuing accreditation is a requirement of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education licensure. 

Another aspiration Scott Payne has for the school is to expand programming, possibly offering more degree options.

“We made a decision with our resources to keep it small and tight, and have a BFA in Studio Art as a general program,” she said. “But we feel that we can offer many pathways in the future that will develop the opportunity for students.” 

A crowd views Dixon's installation work, which focuses on mental health and the impact of trauma on human memory.KyCAD

A crowd views Dixon’s installation work, which focuses on mental health and the impact of trauma on human memory.

Freshly graduated, Jada Lynn Dixon said she’s “going to continue making my art,” and start applying for grants to fund her installation work. 

“So that’s what I have in my immediate future, but I’m still planning like my distant future.”

The KyCAD graduates have a current exhibition up at 849 Gallery through June 29, showcasing their work from the last several years.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.