Program Spotlight: MN NICE Year Five

Last November, we celebrated our fourth graduating class of Minnesota New Institute for Ceramic Education (MN NICE). The program is currently in its fifth year with another diverse and lively student body. Students enrolled in the 2018 program include: Clarice Allgood, Chris Bond, Shelli Burns, Mariah Greenhoff, Rob Kohlmeyer, Nick Kosack, Jamie Parrish, and Joan Vande Kamp. Kyle Rudy-Kohlhepp, Manager of Education and Studio Programs at Northern Clay Center, interviewed select students that have recently completed the program’s first trimester about their experiences.

MN NICE participants Jamie Parrish
and Chris Bond in NCC's kiln room.

Clarice Allgood, Pouring Pot.

What inspired you to apply to MN NICE?
Joan: I was encouraged to look at the program by Heather Nameth Bren (Affiliate Artist). In my conversations with her about my goals to further develop my work in terms of craft and on a professional basis, MN NICE seemed like the perfect fit.

What feedback has been most pivotal from your time with Ursula Hargens (program head) and the affiliate artists?
Joan: I have found it incredibly helpful to get input from Ursula and the group that I should focus on one question at a time. My ceramic interests have always been varied, but with their suggestion to create a series of work, I have been able to answer questions and home in on solutions to make more consistent and better developed forms.

What advantages has the MN NICE contingent’s dynamic offered that you didn't anticipate before enrolling?
Jamie: I didn't anticipate how close our group would become in such a short time. Our backgrounds are diverse — from fresh out of college, to retirees. This allows for great conversations with varying opinions. Everyone has something to bring to the table.

What experience have you found most motivational?
Clarice: The experience that I’ve found most motivational has been the open, searching dialogue that Ursula and the affiliate artists support. These thoughtful and thought-provoking conversations are incredibly validating and inspiring. The depth of attention, study, and commitment to a craft, integral to their lives, is so present, so idiosyncratic. In picking along my own way, singularly focused on ceramics and its wider significance in the world, I find this very motivational.

How has MN NICE changed your approach or thought processes?
Clarice: Immersed in self-study, focus can narrow to considering a single piece at a time — a specific form, function, or technique. The questions Ursula and affiliate artists have posed concerning the whole of one’s work have pushed me to really inspect what I’m making and why, with a more panoptic viewfinder. Why watering cans but no vases? Why a yarn bowl but no tea sets? Prompted to search for connections and coherence has really pushed me into the realm of defining a “body of work” as a whole rather than a random collection of pieces. This is a much more interesting and fertile place to be when making decisions. As Steve Rolf enthused, we’re making decisions “on the particle level!”

Joan: The many conversations, readings, and field trips have encouraged me to take a much more proactive approach to creating. Instead of it being a reactive process, letting a piece take shape while I create it, I have started to take a much more planned and designerly approach. Readings and research about the history of the ceramic process, and then seeing the physical items on field trips, has helped me to understand the level of focus and intent involved to create well developed pieces and bodies of work.

What obstacles have you overcome as a maker while part of the MN NICE program?
Jamie: The biggest obstacle I have overcome as a maker has been dealing with imposter syndrome. I don't have an academic background in clay, and being surrounded by so many incredible artists was overwhelming at first. My fellow MN NICE participants, Ursula and the rest of NCC have been great at meeting me where I'm at in my work and made me realize I have something to contribute.

Is MN NICE right for you?
MN NICE supports the development of studio work and provides high-level training in ceramic materials, history and theory, and professional practices. Through instruction and individual mentorship, students build skills, knowledge, and insight necessary to create a personal and cohesive body of work. The program is led by ceramics artist and educator, Ursula Hargens, and is supported by the talents of myriad ceramic artists from around the region and from across the country.

Hargens explains, "Many individuals are eager to further their ceramic education and seek a professional credential, but family, employment, financial and time constraints limit their ability to do so within a traditional academic structure. This certificate program is designed to fill this gap, providing a flexible, yet challenging environment that responds to the needs of non-traditional students, giving them quality information, academic rigor, critical dialogue, and critique as they develop their artistic practice and strengthen their work.”

Find more information on our website, or to request detailed information and discuss your availability, contact Kyle Rudy-Kohlhepp at or 612.339.8007 x314.

Program Info Sessions:
Join us for a program information session, where we will discuss the program’s many components before opening the floor to questions.

Friday, March 29, 4:30 pm, Vine Arts Center, 2637 27th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55406

Thursday, May 2, 6 pm, NCC Library

Applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis, but are expected by June 1 for September 2019 enrollment.