MN NICE: Year Six

Last November, we celebrated our fifth graduating class of Minnesota New Institute for Ceramic Education (MN NICE). The program is currently in its sixth year with another diverse and lively student body. Students enrolled in the 2019 program include: Liane Bromer, Paola Evangelista, Billy Hicks, Rylie Lawrence, Joy Newmann, Marni Oberpriller, Chris Salas, Brent Titcomb, and Sydney Willcox. Kyle Rudy-Kohlhepp, Deputy Director of Operations and Director of Learning & Artist Services at NCC interviewed select students who recently completed the program’s first trimester to gather insight on their experience so far.

What originally drew you to apply for the MN NICE program?
Joy: Ursula and I had a conversation and I was very impressed with her incisive and interested questions about my work, her intelligence, and background in ceramics. The offer of substantive education in the history and processes of ceramics, and a time frame that fit my life compelled me to submit my application.

How does the MN NICE class dynamic differ from your experience with other educational models?
Marni: MN NICE offers the choice of developing relationships and gaining feedback from a handful of Affiliate Artists. Additionally, meeting with Ursula every eight-week session allows me the opportunity to have a well-developed mentor/mentee relationship.

Chris: MN NICE allows one to continue to maintain a normal life. On top of attending a weekly 4-hour class, I spend about 20 hours a week in the studio and work full-time. Having spent two months learning and working this way, I can see how to have a serious studio practice while working full-time. I have been able to learn, make mistakes, and have full control over every aspect of the process. All of this while also having a very supportive instructor, great mentorship, and a community to help make smart choices and talk about ceramics.

What field trip did you find most inspiring in the first block of the program?
Joy: The trips to Mia have been most interesting because of the incredible array of beautiful pottery and sculpture there, including many period pieces. Ursula’s lectures and slide shows are always interesting to me as it is all new and she is well-versed in the historic and technical aspects of people across time who have worked with clay.

What advantages has the MN NICE class dynamic offered that you didn’t anticipate before enrolling?
Billy: The great diversity of participants. There is diversity in backgrounds, age, experience, and interests. I think it is a real strength of the program and something that really sets it apart.

How has the Studio Artist community at Northern Clay Center impacted or added to your experience in MN NICE?
Brent: I’d previously taken classes at NCC for over a year and wouldn’t expect anything less from the community and artists, it’s been wonderful! Great group of people. It has definitely added to my experience to get to chat and spin ideas off other NCC Studio Artists.

What experience have you found most motivational, and how?
Billy: Working with the Affiliate Artists has been great. I love the personal attention that we get from these amazing artists. Also, the investment that these accomplished individuals have in MN NICE is clear.

How has MN NICE changed your approach or thought process as a maker?
Chris: MN NICE has challenged me to question why I make certain choices and why I am drawn to certain things. This questioning has helped me develop a language to describe my intentions behind making.

What is the biggest challenge you are hoping to tackle in the second and third blocks of the program?
Marni: Figuring out my own base glaze and color palette for my work, setting goals and following them through to completion, and figuring out my work flow.

Brent: Bringing my wide-ranging ideas to fruition and narrowing my focus to make progress on creating a body of work that is easily identified as mine.

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 a dedicated group of Affiliate Artists, who are professional studio artists and educators in the greater Twin Cities community.

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 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.

Thursday, April 23, 6 pm, NCC Library
Please email Kyle Rudy-Kohlhepp at if you wish to attend this session remotely.

Applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis but are expected by June 1 for September 2020 enrollment.