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Program Description


The two-year MA in Critical Studies program combines the study of critical theory with the practice of creative research, so students learn not only to critique but also to intervene, reimagine, and remake. The program is designed to help students develop modes of thinking, writing, and creating that cross disciplinary boundaries.

Situated in the context of a 21st-century art school, Critical Studies examines overlaps and tensions between critical theory and visual studies and investigates the role critical theory and critical pedagogy can play in transforming institutions and ideologies.

Faculty fields of expertise include queer, feminist, and transgender studies, critical race theory, cultural studies, contemporary art criticism, disability studies, environmental criticism, performance studies, film studies, literary criticism, and creative writing.

The required course sequence builds from identifying key questions and issues in critical theory and cultural studies to providing students with the methodological, research, and writing skills they need to ask good questions and to investigate their areas of inquiry in a thesis project of their own design. The thesis writing occurs during the second year, resulting in both an academic research paper and opportunities for public scholarship based on the student’s professional interests.

Students are supported by faculty and mentors to present research at academic conferences and symposia, facilitate public talks and workshops, publish writing, and develop plans to continue their intellectual and cultural work upon graduation.

Graduates of the Critical Studies program have gone on to pursue doctoral degrees, Fulbright fellowships, nonprofit work, arts administration, curatorial careers, teaching, and public scholarship.

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MA/MFA Option

MA/MFA option through which MA students can add a third year in any of PNCA’s MFA programs to graduate with a dual MA/MFA degree. Learn more about the Dual Degree MA/MFA.

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MA/MFA Dual Degree Options

MA + MFA Applied Craft and Design

MA+MFA Print Media

MA+MFA Visual Studies

Teaching Assistantships / Graduate Fellowships

Teaching Assistantships are an opportunity for students who are interested in teaching to gain valuable experience in a leadership role in the classroom during their time as a graduate student. Once enrolled, students have the opportunity to apply for Graduate Fellowship awards.

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Bridgelab Career Services

BridgeLab offers resources that include workshops, information sessions, one-on-one career advising, networking opportunities, and a strong alumni network to support your professional development.

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We connect students with opportunities for paid work including on-campus positions and off-campus internships. Internship opportunities are also available to international students.

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Caldera interior

Thesis Writing Retreat

During the second year of the program students join faculty for a multi-day writing retreat including intensive study, dialogue, and community in the beauty and solitude of the Pacific Northwest.

Plotters, scanners, 3D printers, large-scale printers, and other facility equipment in the Make+Think+Code Technology and Research Lab Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA).


Students can span into technology, math and science to enrich their research by creating additional connections to programs such as the Art and Science Initiative and Make+Think+Code, the art and technology lab at PNCA.

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Credit-bearing international studies trips

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The English Institute

The MA in Critical Studies Program is an Institutional Sponsor of The English Institute, a major resource for developments in criticism, theory, and scholarship.

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Many forms of financial assistance are available to our students.

Merit scholarships are assessed based on the student’s personal history of scholastic achievement, as well as their contributions to culture and community. Consideration will also be given to traditionally underrepresented students and those who demonstrate financial need. No separate application is required for merit scholarships.

MA students can apply for Teaching Assistantships which afford students the opportunity to work in the classroom and gain pedagogical experience pending completion of a Critical Pedagogy class. TAs are compensated per semester once they are placed in a class.

Students are encouraged to apply for external scholarships. These can be found by searching online databases including the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool, and sites such as Fastweb,, and Scholarshipsportal.

Leadership Scholarships for Black, Indigenous, and Non-Black Students of Color

One full tuition scholarship (renewable each year for up to 2 year for an MFA or MA student and up to 3 years for a Dual degree student) will be awarded to a Black/African American student.

One full tuition scholarship (renewable each year for up to 2 year for an MFA or MA student and up to 3 years for a Dual degree student) will be awarded to an Indigenous, Native American, or non-Black student of color.

Two scholarships of $5,000 each (renewable each year for up to 2 year for an MFA or MA student and up to 3 years for a Dual degree student) will be awarded to a Black, African American, Indigenous, Native American, or non-Black student of color.

Program Highlights

Visiting Scholars

Conversations are enlivened by visiting writers and scholars throughout the year. These visiting scholars and writers include Maggie Nelson, Sarah Schulman, Walidah Imarisha, C. Riley Snorton, Z. Nicolazzo, Allan de Souza, and Cheryl Strayed.


Art Discourse

Art Discourse is a platform for writing that explores the aesthetic, political, and social dimensions of art and design. It is published by the MA in Critical Studies program in collaboration with the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA.

Art Discourse


Schedule a visit

Get in touch with MA in Critical Studies Chair, Shawna Lipton: to schedule a campus visit or to learn about the program today.

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