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By Nancy Hahn

What do Paul Sullivan, an illustrator on the Simpsons and designer of the Colorado Avalanche logo; Brian Nugent, who worked on “Alien vs. Predator” and “Benjamin Button;” and Michelle Matt, whose work was featured in “Rock Band 2” and “Chicago 10” have in common? Each of these successful artists attended the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. The Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design has lovely historic buildings and creative art throughout the campus just a few blocks off of Colfax Avenue in Lakewood. 

The buildings of RMCAD were not originally built for students. They were built for patients. Over a hundred years ago, tuberculosis or TB was a terrible disease with no cure. Many people, who suffered with the disease, were sent out West. The dry air and the sunshine were thought to lessen the effects of the disease. On what is now the RMCAD campus, the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society built what became the largest free TB treatment facility in the world. Eventually, tuberculosis declined and the facility was used for medical research.

Walking through the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design campus now, you can see the history in the names of buildings and signs posted across campus. The building now called the Rude Building and housing classes and exhibiting art has a sign, “1919 – I Rude Medical Building.” Another sign commemorates the well donated by the St. Louis Ladies Auxiliary Jewish Consumptives Relief Society in 1910. Now, though, the campus of artists is filled with outdoor sculptures, murals, and other artwork, too. Among the huge outdoor sculptures are a miner’s pick and a pile of Colorado gold, an interesting maze called ‘Out and Inside’, and a life-size concrete mattress and box spring. 

The Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design was founded by a well-known illustrator and teacher, Phillip J. Steele, in 1963. Steele saw the college as a “community of creatives.” He envisioned students beginning with traditional drawing and painting, the way artists learned as long ago as the Renaissance. Then they would follow their interests with the guidance of skilled artists. Both students and instructors would become lifelong learners. Their interactions would make each more creative.  

Although students do take classes in the traditional fine arts; the college has classes in more high-tech art skills, also. 3D animation, game art, drafting, commercial photography, and computer-aided design are just a few. RMCAD is a for-profit college, so students do not have to have specific grades or have taken specific courses to apply. RMCAD is, though, a fully accredited institution. Students of the Art Education program can be licensed to teach art in Colorado Public Schools. Students can receive a Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design, Animation, and Graphic Design, and many other degree programs on campus. There are online degrees offered in Graphic Design, 3D Animation, Game Art, and others, too. There are, also, Master’s degree programs. The classes are varied and rigorous. Classes average about one teacher for every eight students, so students get the attention and instruction they need. The campus still holds to Steele’s vision of a community of creatives. 

Mel Kern, the Student Life Coordinator, said that the students and the faculty hold weekly barbecues with both food and activities to build the sense of community. The first week in May, for example, there was sand castle building – a perfect activity for a hot day and a creative group. This spring there are 373 students on campus.

“There are about an equal number of students from Colorado and from the rest of the United States,” Kern explained, and a “handful of international students.”

Many of RMCAD’s classes are available online and an additional 387 more students are taking classes online. 

There are ever-changing displays of student art in many of the campus buildings. There are, also, four campus galleries: the Philip J. Steele Gallery, the Rude Gallery, the Alumni Gallery, and the Student Gallery. Some show student and faculty art, some the work of visiting artists. Visiting artist come often to RMCAD, because they are able to have such close interaction with students.

In a class of students working on still-life paintings, students shared what made RMCAD the college for them. The classroom was full of busy students.  All students had their painting and subject in front of them, and a few had a laptop open beside them.

Liana, a first year student, explained that her classes are fun and she enjoys almost every one of them.

Cody stated, “This school only teaches what I’m interested in. It’s that simple.”