The University will provide scholarships to cover full tuition for all future and returning students in the Brown/Trinity Rep Master of Fine Arts programs in Acting and Directing beginning in the 2018-19 academic year.
The scholarships aim to minimize student debt, said Patricia Ybarra, chair of the theatre arts and performance studies department. By decreasing debt, artistic practice can become more diverse and inclusive and will lead to a larger pool of applicants, she added.
“It will diversify the class ethnically, racially and in terms of socioeconomic status,” Ybarra said.
The Brown/Trinity Rep MFA programs — a partnership established in 2002 between the University and Rhode Island’s Trinity Repertory Company — immerse students in three years of artistic study. The programs combine classroom learning with practical theater experience through internships, according to the programs’ website.
The University currently offers partial scholarships to several students in the program, but the additional support will cost $1 million each year, Provost Richard Locke P’18 wrote in an email to The Herald. The University already provides scholarships covering tuition for all other MFA programs, Locke added.
John Barrack MFA’18 said he believes the initiative will have an “immense impact” on MFA students and the programs’ reputation as it could lead to a higher caliber of students and higher regard for graduates. “The change means a lot for the careers of the students in the program,” he added.
Curt Columbus, Trinity Rep’s artistic director, who advocated for this change for 12 years, called the scholarship provision “a significant game changer.” He believes the scholarships “will have an undeniable impact as a recruitment tool” because it will allow the University to send “artists out into the world with as little debt as possible.”
The decision to provide scholarships for MFA students stemmed from student advocacy and an “incredibly responsive administration,” Columbus said.
This development aligns with the goals of the Brown Arts Initiative, which aims to integrate, improve and promote arts education across the University. “Brown Arts Initiative supports experimental and engaged work,” Ybarra said. “The MFA students having less debt allows them to do community-engaged work that they may not be able to do if they face the social and commercial pressures to repay debt.”
“An arts degree is more of a creative investment than a financial one,” said Haley Schwartz ’17 MFA’20. Art plays a large role in community work through its “ability to control cultural norms and messages and drive ideological change,” she added.
Schwartz also said the scholarships will help bridge the gap between the University and Trinity Rep. “It feels good to be recognized in a large way by the University,” Schwartz added.