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It was back in 2009 when the 60-year-old Art Institute of Atlanta, a system of more than 45 education institutions located throughout North America, decided to open a branch in Northern Virginia.

The school offered a mix of contemporary and traditional arts classes designed for the creative student who was looking for higher education in fields such as graphic design, fashion and retail management, animation and interactive media.

When Gregg Crowe became campus director about 18 months ago, he felt that people in the area had heard of the great programs the institute had to offer but believed the school needed a better identity to get them to come to the campus.

“I am not a native to the area and I felt the name Northern Virginia didn’t really pinpoint where we are located in the metropolitan area,” Crowe said. “For those students and parents trying to figure out where we were, I wanted a name to help people really zero in on us. I thought Dulles was a clear geographic point for locals and non locals alike.”

Thus, the school’s name was changed to The Art Institute of Washington-Dulles earlier this year. As of the spring 2012 semester, more than 350 students were enrolled in the branch.

With an emphasis on design, fashion and media, Crowe said The Art Institute of Washington-Dulles’ strongest programs are in media animation, graphic art and fashion management.

“We are a creative fine arts school providing an education for students who are artistically inclined,” he said. “These are students who are creative and want to work in the arts and apply arts to some practical application. Students who are very certain of what they want to do choose us.”

One of those is third-year student Ben Morse, who is studying Arts & Animation with career aspirations to work at Pixar.

“Originally, I was looking to take some classes online so I could continue working, but then I learned of this school and it had the creative classes I was looking for,” Morse said. “After about a year of attending the Institute, I was enjoying myself and learning far more than I expected. My classes are preparing me to work in development or animated movies.”

While taking a color theory class, Morse had an idea to create a large-scale pavement art display—one large enough to enter the Guinness Book of World Records—by having all art students draw around the parking lots and pavement of the school and neighboring Dulles Town Center. Morse is finishing up getting all the permits necessary, and the project is expected to get underway in the fall.

“I wanted to do something for this particular branch and thought it would be fun to do a large community project to draw a lot of attention to the students we have,” Morse said.

It’s inspirational ideas like this, Crowe said, that proves how beneficial an arts school can be. The ultimate goal of the school is to not only provide a great education, but to help students be competitive in the working world. To that end, the director was also responsible for starting a new initiative last year.

“One of the things we instituted was an academic support center,” Crowe said. “It provides all students tutoring in academic areas and assistance with school work at no cost so they can be competitive working adults.”

The Institute also holds job fairs, brings in professional guests who have made names for themselves in the arts industry and employs 10 career service advisors to help all graduates find jobs in their chosen field within six months of graduating. Currently, it has an approximate 85 percent success rate.

“Part of our curriculum is a portfolio show,” Crowe said. “Throughout their academic career here, part of their time is spent putting together a professional portfolio to show to prospective employers.”

The Art Institute of Washington-Dulles also has its own gallery, where art students and community artists can display their work. Last month they invited public school art teachers to hang their art, to help foster a relationship with the schools in the area.

“Art is an important part of our culture and schools like ours that focus on creative arts wouldn’t exist without public schools poking the fire,” Crowe said. “We have an impressive faculty of working professionals striving to strengthen students’ skills and cultivate their talents.”