It’s a relationship that goes all the way back to 1945. That’s when Tufts and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts established a degree program to educate art teachers.

In the decades that followed, the connection between the two institutions only deepened. Tufts opened its classrooms to students from the art school, which is known as the SMFA. The SMFA welcomed Jumbos in its studios. Additional degrees were offered. Creativity flourished. So even though it marked a new beginning when Tufts formally acquired the venerable art school in 2016—assuming ownership from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts—in some ways it was simply the next step in a partnership that’s been seven decades in the making.

Today, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University stands as a testament to the belief that the arts are an essential component of the educational experience. “The acquisition of the SMFA heralds a renaissance for the arts at Tufts, and will create myriad opportunities to enrich our fine arts curriculum and to infuse our community with new energy and perspectives,” Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco said at the time of the acquisition.

Below, and in a series of related articles, we present an overview of the SMFA and some of its most famous names from the past, explore how the school is helping tomorrow's artists find their voice today, and show how the school continues to enrich the broader Tufts community every day. “This school is unlike any other,” said Nancy Bauer, dean of the SMFA at Tufts. “It’s all about preparing artists who provoke conversations that matter. My vision is to take what the SMFA has done for many, many years and give our students, faculty, and staff what they need to soar.”


SMFA at glance sticky note












The school offers three degree programs

A BFA, an MFA, and a five-year combined degree in which students earn both a BFA and a BA or a BS.


There are also two certificate programs

A five-semester diploma program that’s often pursued by people who’ve completed one career and are looking to develop their artistic side, and a one-year post-baccalaureate program.


The combined degree is growing in popularity

In the past four years, the program has grown from 30 to 44 to 67 to 109 students.


The school features an open curriculum
Students design a personalized course of study that has no majors or required classes.


Students end semesters with a review board

They display their work and talk it through with two faculty members and two other students. Questions are asked, ideas are exchanged, and reading and viewing suggestions are made.


The SMFA has no foundation year

Unlike at most art schools, students are not required to spend a year working in lots of different art disciplines rather than focusing on those that interest them.


Note SMFA Alumni











Richard Scarry

The hundreds of children’s books that Scarry wrote and illustrated can be found in homes throughout the world.

Ellsworth Kelly

The legendary painter, sculptor, and printmaker used the GI Bill to attend the SMFA. He went on to became a force in the rise of minimalism, hard-edge painting, color field, and pop art.

Lalla Essaydi

Essaydi’s photography has been exhibited around the world. Her work, which often depicts Arab women, examines power and gender dynamics.

Ellen Gallagher

Gallagher’s provocative paintings and multimedia works are meditations on history, race, and power. They can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Nan Goldin

The acclaimed photographer is known for her deeply personal and candid portraiture. Her 1985 slideshow The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is credited with influencing a generation of photographers.  

Doug and Mike Starn

The identical twins meld photography, sculpture, and architecture. Their 2010 installation of the Big Bambú series on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the ninth-most attended exhibit in Met history.

Yoshiko Yamamoto

Inspired by Etruscan and Egyptian jewels, Yamamoto creates necklaces and brooches that are held in private collections across the globe.

Read more about the SMFA:

Mapping the SMFA

Getting to Know the SMFA Diploma Program

The SMFA Through the Years

Transcending Boundaries

Explore a Portfolio of SMFA Student work

Learning Through Exploration



Portrait of Laura Ferguson

Laura Ferguson, senior writer at Tufts and regular Tufts Now contributor, can be reached at