Summer Study Abroad Program in Florence Welcomes Students From All Majors


Each year, Academy of Art University’s School of Fine Art organizes a summer study abroad program welcoming students from all majors to become immersed in the history, culture and art of one of the world’s most historically stunning Renaissance cities—Florence, Italy. While the seven and a half week program is centered upon instruction, coursework, day trips and three-day weekends, there’s plenty of room for spontaneity.

“‘This has been a life-changing experience’ is the comment that students constantly come back with,” said Dr. Craig Nelson, executive director of painting and printmaking for the School of Fine Art, who established the program nearly 10 years ago. “It’s a combination of discovering a different culture, as well as enjoying the historical aspects of Florence. From buildings designed by famous architects to sculptures by Donatello, they see art firsthand.”

Academy alumnus Boots Lupenui had never been to Europe before joining the study abroad program in 2015. “I felt like I was dreaming the whole time I was there,” said the Oahu-based painter and illustrator. “To be living in Florence has to be one of the greatest experiences any artist could ask for. History is everywhere and the opportunity to visit and paint in other parts of Tuscany, in Venice, etc., made an indelible impression on me.”


From plein air painting in the Boboli Gardens to midnight photography sessions on the Ponte Vecchio, students experience a range of enriching activities during the program. Focusing on one area of study, such as fine art painting and drawing, printmaking and book arts, illustration, photography, or music (new this year), the students take classes Monday through Thursday with Academy instructors at the Santa Reparata International School of Art (SRISA). Thursdays are usually reserved for day trips to nearby Tuscan towns, leaving three-day weekends open for exploration.

Lupenui remembers one particular day trip to the ancient Etruscan town of Fiesole, which lies on a hill above Florence. After scouting the landscape for a good spot to paint, Lupenui was pulling out his brushes when a local woman came by to see what was going on. “She leaned over and whispered, ‘This is not even the best view of this place. The best view is up there! You come—I show you.’” So Lupenui followed her as she pushed her baby stroller up the winding paths of a steep hill. “I spent the rest of the day painting in a most idyllic spot because this big-hearted woman was nice enough to share the beauty of her hometown with some visiting painter from Hawaii she didn’t even know,” he recalled.

Nelson said magical encounters like these are frequent occurrences, especially during the day trips the group takes to small Tuscan hill towns like Montepulciano, Siena and San Gimignano. He remembered one night when they happened upon an open-air production of Bizet’s opera Carmen while strolling through the medieval piazzas of Cortona. “It was wonderful,” he recalled. “You get these experiences that you just can’t get anywhere else, and they’re often unplanned—like stumbling upon that opera. It was just something we saw when we were there and I said ‘would you guys like to do it?’ And those of us who wanted to, we went.”

One of the major benefits for online students, like Lupenui, is the direct contact with instructors and fellow students, which they don’t normally get while studying remotely.


This unique opportunity has led to lasting friendships, including marriages and has even prompted some to enroll as on-site students in San Francisco.

“My favorite part was that I was living this amazing experience in the company of other artists, both classmates and teachers,” said Lupenui. “The memories we shared are some of my most treasured possessions and even though I was an online student, several of us who studied abroad together still keep in touch and I’m so thankful for the friendships we formed there.”

This year’s Florence Fine Art Study Abroad program takes place June 20 – August 12, 2017, and includes a three-night trip to Venice. More information can be found here: