The post-baccalaureate program at Laguna College of Art and Design, which is in its 10th year, has served as a route to dream careers, second careers, and in the case of Liz Espinoza-Nguyen, even the creation of a nonprofit organization.
Betty Shelton, who heads the program, said it gives serious artists a first step to pursuing a professional career or pursuing a terminal degree in their field. Approximately one-third of the program participants, who range in age from 22 to 60, continue to LCAD’s MFA program, while two-thirds pursue a professional career, she said. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits the program in painting and drawin
Since childhood and throughout a career with the Department of the Treasury that took her to Chicago, San Francisco and back to Los Angeles, Espinoza-Nguyen said, “Everywhere I went, I took classes at community colleges or found private tutors. But when I retired, and my daughters were grown up, I decided to make my art my life.”
The Seal Beach resident eventually found her way to LCAD, studying privately with faculty members Brittany Ryan and Taylor Montague. They dissuaded her from pursuing another undergraduate degree and instead guided her to the post-baccalaureate program. “Hone your skills, develop a portfolio and then go for your MFA,” they advised.
Laguna Beach resident Donna Ballard had always wanted to major in art, but she took a more practical approach, combining her love of drawing, painting and math to forge a career as an architect. In 2017, she decided it was time to pursue her life-long dream and was accepted to the LCAD drawing and painting BFA program. However, after evaluating the option, Ballard found LCAD’s post-baccalaureate program the better fit. “My work has improved by leaps and bounds,” she said. “By learning best practices in how to apply the paint and important technical skills, my paintings are at a whole new level.”
This summer, Ballard will exhibit her work at the Sawdust Festival. Not surprisingly, her work focuses on buildings, especially their geometry, light and shadows. “The hardest part of the program was coming home after a long day at work to do my homework,” Ballard said. “But it was worth it. I would do it over again.”
Lisa Mansour, another post-baccalaureate graduate, is happy to be exhibiting for her second year at the Sawdust Festival. “Every year when we went to the Sawdust, my girls would ask, ‘When are you going to apply, mom?’”
Growing up, Mansour was immersed in all aspects of the arts, yet she graduated with a degree from Eller College of Management at University of Arizona and moved to Chicago to begin a career in advertising. A move with her family in 2000 to Laguna Beach rekindled her passion for the arts. While raising her three daughters, Mansour, like Espinoza-Nguyen, had takenclasses and workshops whenever she could fit them in,and like Ballard, she was accepted to LCAD’s BFA program in Drawing and Painting but transferred to the post-baccalaureate program. “I wanted to get better,” she said. “I could paint but I was missing the fundamentals. The most important thing LCAD teaches is to learn what you have to say in your art.”
Mansour started the post-baccalaureate program in 2014, the same year her oldest daughter started college, and graduated in 2018, the same year her youngest daughter graduated from Orange County School of the Arts. She paints donuts, dress forms and “other delights.” “Someone is going to paint donuts; it might as well be me,” the artist said.
The prime post-baccalaureate candidate is someone who has earned a bachelor’s degree, in any subject, and has some studies in studio art and is considering pursuing the dream of becoming a skilled artist, Shelton said.
Just as with its other majors, LCAD screens applicants through a rigorous portfolio review. The 30-unit, one-year program carries a $31,600 price tag, although graduates get the perk of auditing one LCAD course per semester, indefinitely. There are also institutional grants available to applicants based on their portfolios.Shelton evaluates each student’s strengths and weaknesses to determine which studio art classes would best help them reach their goals and dreams. She also offers advice on assembling their portfolio, which must be submitted along with the free application.
After receiving her certificate from the post-baccalaureate program, Espinoza-Nguyen’s path took a turn when her mother unexpectedly died at age 65. She had pledged to help her mother with her informal charity work, bringing aid to orphans in Vietnam, once she retired. Rosa Thay Nguyen, whose own mother was an orphan, had been able to emigrate to the U.S. with her 8-year old daughter (Liz) after the fall of Saigon in 1975. She never forgot how powerless she was to help her neighbors in the war years.
Because of the promise she had made to her mother, Espinoza-Nguyen founded the Rosa Thay Nguyen Children’s Foundation (RTNCF), a nonprofit organization with the mission to give underprivileged children access to medical care in the U.S. and Vietnam. She hopes to expand the work to South America one day. “I have found a new purpose for my art,” Espinoza-Nguyen said. “My paintings are a way to express the foundation’s spirit and to fundraise so we can get medical care to children in third world countries.” She plans a fundraising gala for June 15, and in December, her work will be on exhibit at John Wayne Airport.
Graduates of the Post Baccalaureate program come out being able to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the fundamentals of drawing and painting using color theory, value, space, line, form, and composition, Shelton said. “In the absence of these programs, a number of people who would be great artists would give up because they may not want to go through a second bachelor’s degree or have the skill for an MFA program. Our curriculum helps students develop conceptual and narrative skills to use their unique voice in their work,” Shelton added.