Founded in 1826, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continually degree-granting, fully accredited art college in the nation and one of only two art colleges in Maryland (the other is the Maryland College of Art and Design in Silver Spring). MICA's facilities, library and studio space provide students with superb resources for creating their work.

MICA offers bachelor of fine arts degrees in general art studies, ceramics, drawing, education, environmental design, interior architecture, fibers, general fine arts, graphic design, illustration, painting, photography/video, printmaking and sculpture. Concentrations or minors are also available in animation, digital multimedia, art history, video and language and literature. Master's degree programs are available in painting, sculpture, photography, graphic design, teaching and digital arts.

Some students say a rivalry exists between the illustration, graphic design and interior design majors and the fine arts majors, who claim the former "sold their artistic souls" to the devil of commercialism. But these differences aside, students here form a talented and curious community that excels not only in visual arts but in writing, performance and music, as well.

As evidenced by some of its alumni, MICA is a college for students who are serious about art, both as vocation and avocation. MICA graduates include controversial sculptor Jeff Koons, known for using pop culture references in unexpected ways; painter Jason Dodge, who in 1998 was named one of the country's top 10 artists and has work in the permanent collection of the Guggenheim Museum; and 1932 graduate Morris Louis, whose work profoundly influenced the development of color painting. Former Talking Heads lead singer David Byrne also attended MICA for one year.

MICA is more than just a school for creative types. It is the heart of the arts community in Baltimore. It sponsors many events for both students and the public, including musical performances, slide presentations, film series, lectures and literary readings. More than 90 free, public exhibitions are featured in MICA galleries each year.

MICA is located amid a cultural corridor that includes the Lyric Opera House, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Walters Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Each July, some of its facilities play host to Artscape, a mammoth, three-day celebration of visual and performing arts that features exhibits, concerts, literary readings and craft sales.

Until 2002, MICA had only one university-owned living option for undergraduates. The Commons houses 350 students in apartments that accommodate three to four students each. The building contains a 24-hour security station, laundry and vending machines, computer stations and a common lounge. The basement has 45 studio spaces that students can reserve for weeklong periods at no cost.

In 2002, MICA opened the Robert and Jane Meyerhoff House, a former women's hospital in Bolton Hill that has been converted into apartments for upperclassmen. The new residence hall is designed with the artist in mind: Rooms have high ceilings, exposed brick, original architecture, and many bedrooms have Murphy beds that fold up to create additional studio space. The Meyerhoff House can accommodate more than 200 students, giving 40 percent of MICA undergraduates access to university-owned housing. All freshmen are guaranteed housing.

Students who do not live in one of the college's two residence halls can easily find housing in the nearby Bolton Hill, Charles Village and Mount Vernon neighborhoods. The Residence Life & Off-Campus Housing Office is a resource for rental listings, tenant resources and apartment search tips.

There is a somewhat limited selection of student clubs on campus. Many clubs reflect the artistic sensibilities of the students, such as a chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Playwriting Club, Film Appreciation Club, and Super-8 Create. Clubs for bowling, Ultimate Frisbee, chess, swimming, running and soccer provide students with a chance to explore interests outside their disciplines.

For students who lack wheels but want to stay mobile, MICA sponsors free shuttles to local malls and grocery stores and twice-monthly bus trips to Washington, Philadelphia and New York City for $10 to $25. Closer to home, popular destinations are the Mount Royal Tavern, a dark, but homey bar; Brewer's Art, an artsy brew pub with inventive cuisine; the Papermoon Diner, a 24-hour diner near the Baltimore Museum of Art; and Club Charles, where students can relax and enjoy music until 4 a.m.

Those looking for a more traditional college experience often mingle with students from nearby University of Baltimore or Johns Hopkins University to tap into the resources of a larger academic institution. In fact, full-time MICA students can even take one course per semester at those schools, as well as Goucher College, Loyola College, College of Notre Dame and the Peabody Institute.

Perhaps the biggest social event at MICA is the annual Halloween party, which challenges students to be their most daring, and most creative. You won't see many off-the-shelf costumes here. You'll spy your share of drag queens and naked men wrapped in Saran Wrap, but you might also see nine Brady Brunch look-alikes, their heads propped in faux television sets, a herd of cows or the Pope. One alumna fondly recalled a partygoer, wearing soft foam airbrushed to look like a slice of bread, who belly-flopped from a staircase and was promptly followed by his friends dressed as lettuce, tomato and a slice of ham.