Missouri State University
Art + Design Blog

Master of Fine Arts provides new creative adventures

Ainura Ashirova in her studio at Brick City

When Ainura Ashirova arrived at Missouri State to pursue her Master of Fine Arts, she’d already established herself as an effective arts administrator. She’d spent many years working for the British Council in her native Kazakhstan.

“I traveled to London often,” she said, “and I was a very successful arts manager.” Ainura also worked with the United States Embassy and Consulate in Kazakhstan, bringing American artists, performers and educators to her country.

“But,” she said, as she encountered great art and engaged with artists all over the world, “I came to a point that I wanted to do something on my own.”

Vonda Yarberry
Art and design interim department head Vonda Yarberry

Rediscovering her artistic roots

In college, Ainura had trained as a set designer, and as a young professional, she’d worked in graphic design, so she had a foundation in classical artistic techniques and principles. “But I always felt I didn’t experiment enough, which is why I decided to try something different.”

After exploring painting, “I was excited about my improvements and eventually came to the idea of getting a degree.”

She first encountered Missouri State at the U.S. Education Fair in Kazakhstan. “I was just collecting information, but I felt something special actually,” she said.

Ainura spoke to Paula Moore, who told her about the Master of Fine Arts program and connected her to art and design interim department head Vonda Yarberry, who supplied more information about the MFA in Visual Studies and encouraged Ainura to apply.

About the MFA program

Missouri State’s Master of Fine Arts curriculum is designed to stimulate personal innovation and growth. The graduate catalog describes it this way:

Advanced study in Visual Arts and Design with an emphasis placed on the student’s individual research.  The curriculum is specifically designed to be flexible to meet the individual research needs within contemporary, traditional and interdisciplinary approaches and media.  The Department of Art and Design offers a wide range of facilities including graduate studios.

A variety of students with differing backgrounds and research interests is considered an important factor in the development of a scholarship community with an interest in developing original research.

For Ainura, this type of exploration was just what she was looking for. An early class in art theory pushed her to examine her artistic instincts and how they connect to her cultural heritage. “It was hard,” she said, but ultimately helped propel her to new achievements in both painting and mixed media collage.

“That is the meaning of this school,” Ainura said. “They stimulate you and allow you to experiment.”

According to Yarberry, “This approach reflects who we are as a department. We offer an intense amount of personalized attention on a student’s individual path of discovery.”

A look at Ainura’s work


Although Ainura was already an experienced international traveler, there were moments when coming to another country to complete her degree felt daunting. She knew nothing about Missouri but was encouraged by the U.S. Consul General to Kazakhstan, who has Midwestern roots. “He told me I would like it,” she said.

Time for Tea by Ainura Ashirova
Detail of Ainura’s triptych, Time for Tea

Such reassurance, combined with the warmth and accessibility of the faculty and the strength of the program led Ainura to choose Missouri State over three other graduate programs. Receiving a graduate assistantship helped, too. Overall, “it was the best and most interesting offer,” she said.

She laughed remembering other “small signs,” particularly one that occurred as she and her family observed a New Year tradition — just before she decided to attend Missouri State. They were eating chocolate eggs, each of which contained a toy or prize. Ainura and her family made a game of relating the toys to their expectations for the upcoming year. “And I got a small bear,” she said. “I didn’t know that MSU has the bear as a symbol, so I said, ‘a bear means strength and wisdom, and that’s good.’ But then when I decided to go to MSU, I realized it was exactly like the bear I see here at every corner of Springfield. Can you imagine?”

So far, Ainura has enjoyed being a Bear. She likes Springfield’s friendliness and is happy that it’s smaller than her hometown, Almaty, which means she can be almost anywhere in 10 to 15 minutes.

And she’s glad that her son is with her as she works toward her degree. “I wanted him to have this experience as well. I was thinking I would be learning art while he would be learning English. It will be an adventure for us.”

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Shelby Walters & Cory Powell Photography Accomplishments

A photograph from a recent project portraying children and young adults with learning disabilities by senior photography major, Shelby Walters, will be included in Lux 2017, an annual  photographic journal published by Southern Illinois University. In addition to being selected for this publication, Shelby also received an Honorable Mention award. The juror for Lux 2017 was Tom Guthrie, Professor of Art at Creighton University.

Additionally, recent BFA graduate, Cory Powell, was selected as a Finalist in the 37th Annual College and High School Photography Contest sponsored by Photographers Forum Magazine.

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Capturing motion: a sneak peek inside computer animation class

College of Arts and Letters videographer Jackie Crawford captured one morning in ART 331: Computer Animation when the students were learning about motion capture. Artist-in-residence Andy Goodwin demonstrated the necessary technology and led them through unique processes they’ll use in their animation work.

About ART 331: Computer Animation III

The course description for ART 331:

Further exploration of visual expression in animation. Advanced techniques in animating within the digital 3D environment. Priority will be given to those students who have successfully completed the Computer Animation Emphasis Candidacy Review for the BFA in Art or the BS in Electronic Arts.

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Down and Dirty | 2017 BFA in Design & Illustration Exhibition

Join the Missouri State Art and Design program for the 2017 BFA in Design Senior Professional Practicum Exhibition.

Professional projects by students will be displayed in the MSU Student Exhibition Center from May 5th to May 19th 2017.

Exhibiting Students Include:
Elaine Adamson
Taylor Bolls
Meg Bradley
Ashley Breuer
Chris Burkart
Savannah Gentry
Amanda Hommertzheim

Kellie LeCompte

Zach LaMarre

Liz Leonard

Jack Muffoletto

Lexie Mulholland

Alicia Pry

Paula Rivero Ramire
Gabby Smith

Hannah Vargas

Dylan Webb

Opening Reception:

May 5th, 2017

6 – 10pm

Graduation Reception:

May 19th, 2017

6 – 10pm

Student Exhibition Center Hours:

Monday: 1:30 – 6pm

Tuesday: 11am – 6pm

Wednesday: 1:30 – 6pm

Thursday: 11am – 6pm

Friday: 1:30 – 6pm

Saturday: Noon – 5pm

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Sarah Perkins featured in Missouri State’s research publication

Congratulations to Sarah Perkins! Her work is currently featured on the Missouri State research page.

Here’s a snippet:

Alchemy. The ancient desire to exchange the commonplace for the extraordinary — an impulse as understandable as it is unreachable.
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Mitzi Kirkland-Ives recognized with General Education Assessment Award

The Council on General Education and Interdisciplinary Programs (CGEIP) has selected Dr. Mitzi Kirkland-Ives for the 2017 General Education Assessment Award for her leadership in assessment for improvement and for employing effective and innovative practices to help students achieve success in general education in ART 274: Survey of Asian Art.

In 2016-2017, CGEIP reviewed 99 annual reports and selected seven general education course coordinators for this honor. Dr. Kirkland-Ives was recognized for this achievement at the All-Faculty Recognition Ceremony on May 2.

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Not your typical Instagram profile

Gwen Walstrand photography
Photo by Gwen Walstrand

The Earth’s landscape is changing at a dramatic pace. These changes, driven by both human action and inaction, have long-term implications for the future of the planet.

Gwen Walstrand, professor of art and design at Missouri State University, is exploring these changes through photography.

“We have an ocean of images surrounding us all the time — a sea of floating pixels,” said Walstrand. “I’m hoping that my images are more contemplative, that when you encounter them in a museum, gallery or book form, they are more thought-provoking.”

On her recent sabbatical, Walstrand hiked and canoed her way through mountains and forests to capture landscapes across the United States.

‘Beautiful, dark, foreboding’

Walstrand uses visual literacy to communicate things about the world. Her most recent project focuses on using 17th and 18th century notions of the “sublime” to highlight 21st century environmental issues.

“For this project, ‘sublime’ refers to an agreeable or pleasurable kind of terror, often in the face of the natural world,” said Walstrand. “I want to create an emotional response to places that causes people to stop and think.”

Gwen Walstrand photography
“Climate Sublime” – Photo by Gwen Walstrand

Walstrand’s images, in black and white, strive to communicate the ominous danger represented by climate change.

“They don’t bluntly describe destruction, but there tends to be a kind of foreboding or threatening quality,” said Walstrand. “I am hoping these images create a little concern and action.”

Photography and poetry

As her project evolves, Walstrand is considering partnering with a poet to fuse written and visual languages together.

“Images alone might not create concern and action – the information has to be there as well in some form,” said Walstrand. “Introducing an emotional charge with poetry might encourage it to be taken more seriously.”

Through this combination of visual and written art, Walstrand hopes to create an open and non-threatening discussion about climate change.

“I am trying to create a more emotional way of responding to nature so it doesn’t come off as preachy,” said Walstrand. “Instead, it will offer people an opportunity to connect with landscapes in a way that gives us a bit of pause.”

For more information, contact Walstrand at 417-837-2352.

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Ceramics alumna success– Cortney Metzger

Cortney Metzger, a recent graduate from the Art and Design department with a BFA in ceramics, has been recognized by the Osage Nation Museum during Women’s History Month and their #5womenartists and #5WomenWahZhaZhiArtists campaigns.

Cortney’s also accepted an offer from the University of New Mexico to attend graduate school with a Teaching Assistantship where she will be teaching a beginning level ceramics course.

Congratulations, Cortney!



Cortney Metzger, BFA Ceramics alumna 2016




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