We’re doing something no one else has done—we’ve radically reconceived the Ph.D. degree based on the premise that creative thinking lies at the heart of innovation in all fields.

The Ph.D. in Creativity is a low-residency degree for advanced interdisciplinary research in the arts, humanities, sciences and social sciences. This first-of-its-kind Ph.D. offers unique features not found elsewhere: intensive immersion in creative thinking, cross-disciplinary workshops for dissertation development, and professionally accomplished advisors from outside the university whose selection is tailored to best serve each unique dissertation.




Independence Blue Cross is committed to innovation in our community and is proud to sponsor this exciting initiative with University of the Arts.

All Ph.D. programs require a dissertation that makes “an original contribution to knowledge.” Yet after steeping the candidate in the existing literature and methods, they offer no guidance on how to move beyond them. So as George Bernard Shaw famously wrote “progress depends on the unreasonable man”1 who changes rather than accepts established practices. At the University of the Arts, our Ph.D. is about fundamentally changing the way our students think. We intend to use a deep immersion in the intuitive practices of the arts to seed a more creative working practice in students who come already prepared with the conventional methods and knowledge of whatever fields they work in. We seek students who have already achieved a professional mastery in some discipline and we prepare them to go to another level. We show them how to be open to finding that moment when ideas that didn’t seem to have anything to do with one another suddenly come together to ask or answer a question, create a solution to a problem, produce a new invention. The complexity of problem solving in the arts, in their deliberate embrace of intuition, differs from scientific methods. Yet the statistical odds of a scientist winning a Nobel Prize triple if he or she has an avocational practice in the arts.2 Business entrepreneurs need to “think out of the box”; musicians need to do more than master the score. This immersion in the arts can teach a practitioner in any field—in science, in medicine, in business, engineering, health care, the social sciences, innovators in the non-profit world, and even in the arts—to think more creatively.

Although the Ph.D. is increasingly the gateway for high level careers outside academia, most universities require it for full academic rank. We intend to prepare our graduates for a more creative approach to whatever path they take and expect industries as well as the academy to set a premium on our degree. By redefining the underlying approach to their practice, our graduates return to the work world equipped with deep expertise in an area they will help to define and in which they are strongly invested. As our graduates succeed in public life, this University of the Arts degree will also further a broader understanding of the centrality of the arts in all education, at every level.

We offer two connected but separable programs: the Ph.D. in Creativity and the Immersion in Creative Thinking. The Immersion in Creative Thinking is a requirement to go on to the Ph.D. But we strongly encourage students enrolled in Ph.D. programs elsewhere to apply for the two-week Creativity Immersion without leaving their current Ph.D programs. These students can fill out the same application as the Ph.D. applicants and use the proposal from their current program instead of creating a separate proposal for our program. 

Some six-year Ph.D. programs give students a thorough training in the methods and base knowledge in a field and then administer a qualifying examination to pass the student on to the dissertation stage of their work. Most offer an M.A. or M.S. degree at this stage. Many of those students go to work in their field at this point without going on to write a Ph.D. dissertation. Others go straight into the dissertation. Our program looks at that M.A. or other training received from another institution, together with an applicant’s work experience and their dissertation proposal like a qualifying examination in evaluating them to enter our dissertation-only Ph.D.


The artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude had the idea to build the The Mastaba (Project for the United Arab Emirates) in 1977. When completed, it will be the largest sculpture in the world, made from 410,000 oil barrels drawing on expertise from civil engineering, art, the history of Islamic architecture, social, political and financial practices, drawing broad swaths of the local and global population into the making of a work of art. Photo: copyright Christo

The arts offer the most consciously developed disciplines of non-linear and integrative thinking. But all transformative work—even in technology, science, and social science—depends upon intuition and non-linear thought. Contemporary work in neuroscience demonstrates that “cold logic,” devoid of a dynamic engagement with the emotional centers in the brain, doesn’t work.3  We need the rigors of the scientific method and the data base of knowledge in the relevant disciplines. Yet to take innovation to another level we also need to transcend the hierarchies of conventional training. The new Ph.D. at the University of the Arts begins with creativity itself; creative thinking is in the DNA of our faculty and no university is better equipped to teach it. This program commences in mid-June each year with a two-week residency. Students will be immersed in a curated sequence of arts experiences for an intense course in creativity. These experiences differ from simply spectating as a consumer of the arts by engaging the student as a participant in each activity. Each cohort of approximately 10 students will present their proposal for a group critique to their fellow students and the instructors, then they will reframe it repeatedly through a wide variety of creative lenses every day. Informed by daily experiences in different creative practices, the students will revise their proposals into working drafts that they will take away at the end of the two weeks, and around these revised proposals they will begin to build a dissertation committee in consultation with the program director and the chair they select for their committee.

Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, found a way to express complex phenomena in quantum physics in simple visual forms that helped other physicists to grasp the dynamics of difficult concepts. This Feynman diagram shows the scattering of fermions and below is the mathematical notation it illustrates. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The methods seminars are integral to the arts immersion. The often baffling encounters with creative problem-solving in the arts coincides with feedback from the students’ peers and three faculty instructors in the reframing of the students’ dissertations. Since each cohort will come from a range of disciplines, candidates are forced to jettison disciplinary jargon to make their projects comprehensible to one another. If space is available, Ph.D. candidates in programs at other universities may also take this two-week immersion course as a standalone, for a fee. They will complete the Ph.D. application, indicating that they intend to take only the two-week Creativity Immersion. 


A team of civic minded New Yorkers came to the architect and designer Elizabeth Diller with the idea of using a rusting elevated track from the industrial age for something new. She imagined a way to turn this abandoned relic into one of the most popular public recreation sites in the city. Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel for National Geographic.

The Ph.D. in Creativity at the University of the Arts is a research-based Ph.D. Each cohort of students will meet to workshop their dissertations during the first summer residency, as they frame the concept of their research. They meet again over a long weekend the following January, when they have substantial research behind them. Finally, they confer again the following summer as they enter the final stages of research and begin writing in the second year. We strongly encourage completion within three years.

On the Oxford model, we only accept students into the program who have a high degree of professional proficiency and are ready to proceed to the dissertation writing stage of a Ph.D.  We focus on the production of a creative, interdisciplinary dissertation or other Ph.D. project. The preliminary studies required to qualify establish a base of disciplinary mastery in advance, as signified by the M.D., M.A., M.B.A., M.F.A., L.L.B. and M.Phil degrees, for example, or by equivalent experience in social services or non-profits or other background that prepares a student to begin at a dissertation level. The Ph.D. project is typically a written dissertation, however it may also take other forms of equivalent depth so long as the final work may be publicly shared and the dissertation committee is satisfied by the depth of research and thought. The public presentation in some form is a final requirement. The thesis, if written, would normally be between 30,000 and 50,000 words or the equivalent as approved by the individual’s committee; research projects in science, economics, or other disciplines in which a book length dissertation is not normal, will conform to the standards in those fields, which may be an online article or articles of sufficient merit to earn the degree. Students will present their work on a monthly basis to their committee and defend their theses in June of their third year, unless an extension is approved by their committee.

The dissertation committee will annually review the student’s progress on the dissertation and will determine if the progress warrants continuing in the program;  we reserve the right to terminate a student in the program if there is insufficient progress.

Theaster Gates – the Chicago artist, urban planner, performance artist (to mention only a few of his fields of work) – had the idea of renaming a derelict crack house on the South Side of Chicago as an art project. Renaming it literally redefined it and engaged the people of the neighborhood in renovating it together into a vibrant community art center; this in turn seeded the transformation of the neighborhood. Theaster Gates 2012 Dorchester Projects, Chicago. Photo: copyright Theaster Gates.


Most academic Ph.D. programs in the United States take half a dozen years or more to complete. Usually, the foundational preparation that might be completed in an M.A. or M.Phil program is absorbed into the Ph.D., often dispensing with the master’s degree. The Ph.D. at the University of the Arts assumes that M.A.-level work and experience in the field is already reached by our applicants before applying to our program, which is a dissertation-level program only. In nearly all Ph.D. programs candidates at this level focus on their dissertations, often while doing research independently for extended periods; the most profound teaching takes place in all Ph.D. programs in the individual interaction of the student with the Ph.D. advisor. Our program allows a student to continue working in a job so long as they can set aside time to work on their Ph.D. project; it does not require residency over most of the research and writing time. This is not unusual. But in our program we have several advisors for each dissertation, they are more specifically suited to the project, and they are more actively involved than in most residential programs, which is what makes it possible to complete the degree in three years.

The French artist Jean Dubuffet asked himself how his brain worked in apprehending reality and then attempted to find a form in which to communicate what he discovered. This painting, Fluence (Fluidity), of November 19, 1984 shows the complex sequencing and layering of his thoughts embodied in form. Photo: Ellen Page Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery, ©2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York,/ADAGP, Paris.

In mid-June of the first year, students will come to the University of the Arts for a two-week intensive residency. They will need to prepare a list of readings before they arrive. When their cohort reconvenes in January and then again in the second summer of the program, there will also be challenging short term seminars in interdisciplinary topics designed specifically for them to reinforce their creative work.

February 1982, United Arab Emirates: Christo and Jeanne-Claude looking for a possible site for The Mastaba. Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1982 Christo
— Christo, Artist, N.Y. Member of the Ph.D. Advisory Council

Out of the intensive immersion courses, the group project workshops, and the reconnecting with the entering cohort and the cohorts above and below along the way, students will become part of a close knit family of graduates with whom we expect enduring professional relationships to grow. The connections between the exceptionally talented students and graduates of this program will be one of the particularly rich, immediate and long term benefits of the program and the University will continue to cultivate these relationships by  reconvening our graduates every year to mingle with one another and with current students.

David Yager and Jonathan Fineberg met in 2015 at a conference on cross-disciplinary thinking in art and science sponsored by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (part of the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative). Well known for his pathfinding work in medicine and art, the academies had asked David Yager to serve on the steering committee. The organizers asked Jonathan Fineberg to speak about his new book Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain which crosses psychoanalysis and neuroscience with art criticism for a fresh perspective on creative thinking. At this conference, Jonathan and David began a conversation that led to their collaboration in creating this radically reconceived Ph.D. On the premise that creative thinking lay at the heart of innovation in all fields, it seemed appropriate to offer this first ever Ph.D. in Creativity—irrespective of the field of inquiry—in an art school and to begin with an intensive focus on creative thinking in the arts.

Jonathan Fineberg, Director of the PhD Program and David Yager, President and CEO

To explore the full curriculum, click here.


  1. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists, in Man and Superman (1903), (Baltimore MD: Penguin Books, 1952), 267.
  2. See Adam Grant, Originals (N.Y.: Viking, 2016); based on the study by Robert Root-Bernstein et al, Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology, volume 1, number 2, 2008.  Springer Publishing Co., DOI: 10.1891/1939-7054.1.2.51.
  3. Antonio Damasio’s book Descartes’s Error is one of many scientific contributions that point to this conclusion.  See also Semir Zeki, Splendors and Miseries of the Brain, and Jonathan Fineberg, Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain
  4. Christo, conversation with the author, 1983, cited in Jonathan Fineberg, "Meaning and Being in Christo's Surrounded Islands," in Christo: Surrounded Islands (Harry N. Abrams Inc.: N.Y., 1986), 27.
Two young people working in a garage with no funding had an idea that cut across design and technology and they had the drive to create it. It was the first Apple computer. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Advisory Council is comprised of distinguished professionals across diverse disciplines whose knowledge and expertise has contributed to the formation of this program. They will assist in the recommendation and selection of outside advisors to serve each dissertation.

David Yager
President, University of the Arts, ex officio

David Campbell
Professor of Physics, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering and former Provost, Boston University

Roy Campbell
Sohaib and Sara Abbasi Professor of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

John Carlin
Author, television and record producer, founder of Funny Garbage and The Red Organization, N.Y.

Anjan Chatterjee
Professor of Neurology, Psychology, and Architecture, University of Pennsylvania. Director of Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics and author of The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art

Artist, N.Y. Creator, with Jeanne-Claude, of such temporary art projects as The Gates (NYC), Running Fence, Wrapped Reichstag, and The Mastaba, Abu Dhabi (currently in process)

Fang Lijun
Artist and entrepreneur, Beijing. Associated with Cynical Realism in the 1990s, Fang is a leading vanguard artist. He is also a founder of the National Archives of Contemporary Art.

Jack Flam
President of the Dedalus Foundation and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art and Art History at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University; recipient of the MacArthur “genius” award as well as an Emmy and a Peabody Award for his television series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross

Emilia Kabakov
Artist, NY. A pioneer, with Ilya Kabakov, of installation art, with recent retrospectives at the Guggenhiem Museum in N.Y., the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, and the Tate Modern in London

William Kinderman
An internationally known pianist, scholar and recording artist, who has received a lifetime achievement award from the Humboldt Foundation; a leading authority on Beethoven, he has published a dozen books, including Beethoven, The Creative Process in Music from Mozart to Kurtag, and studies of Mozart and Wagner.

Bon Ku
Bon Ku, MD, MPP is the Assistant Dean for Health & Design at Thomas Jefferson University. A practicing emergency medicine physician, he is also the Director of the Health Design Lab and created the first design thinking program at a medical school. His innovative program tackles healthcare inequalities as a form of social justice and teaches future physicians to apply human-centered design to healthcare challenges. Their work toward building healthier cities and redesigning medical education has been featured in The New York Times, CNBC, and Architectural Digest. His forthcoming book, Health Design Thinking, co-written by Ellen Lupton, will be released in February 2020.

Cynthia Oliver
Professor of Dance, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; choreographer of Virago-Man, in the 2017 BAM Next Wave Series and currently touring

Fred Tomaselli
Artist, NY; best known for detailed paintings of birds, plants, and transparent human forms in a combination of unorthodox materials, and for his fantastical reimaginings of the pictures on the front page of the New York Times; represented by James Cohan Gallery and White Cube in London, with solo exhibitions in New York at the Whitney Museum and the Brooklyn Museum

Deborah Willis
UArts BFA '75 (Photography); Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University; she is an artist, photographer, curator, photo historian, and author. Willis is also a recipient of the MacArthur “genius” award, among many other accolades.

Jerry (Yoram) Wind
Lauder Professor of Marketing Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Professor Wind is internationally known for pioneering research on organizational buying behavior, market segmentation, conjoint analysis and marketing strategy.

Zhang Xiaogang
Artist, Beijing; one of the leading painters of the first generation of artists to emerge in China after the Cultural Revolution and an artist of global influence

Semir Zeki
Professor of Neurobiology and Neuroesthetics at University College London and FMedSci Fellow of the Royal Society


Faculty advisory committee: Jonathan Fineberg (chair), Steve Antinoff, Quinn Bauriedel, Donna Faye Burchfield, Marc Dicciani, Christa DiMarco, Katie Donovan, Erin Elman, Joe Rapone and Zach Savich

Admissions committee:
This committee remains anonymous, but it includes a research physician, a professor of physics and engineering, a former Research 1 university administrator, a studio artist and administrator, an art historian specializing in American and African American art, a museum curator with degrees in anthropology, and the director of the Ph.D. at University of the Arts, as chair.

Applications are now being accepted for the cohort beginning in summer 2020.

We seek students who have already achieved proficiency in an intellectual pursuit—it could be in any field—such that the candidate is prepared for the dissertation stage of a rigorous but out-of-the-box Ph.D. Our students will typically have found themselves wanting to transcend the disciplinary limits of their training with an interdisciplinary project. We will be looking for projects that may not easily fit into programs elsewhere. We actively encourage students currently enrolled in Ph.D. programs elsewhere to enroll in the two-week Creativity Immersion for a fee; leaving their current program is not required.

Application Requirements

Along with an application form collecting contact information, education history, the names of three references, and the non-refundable $50 application fee, applicants must also submit:

  • Official Transcripts from all colleges or universities you have attended. Transcripts from institutions outside of the United States must be in English and may require a credential evaluation by a NACES-accredited servicer.
  • Personal Statement (maximum 300 words) describing what led to your interest in pursuing a Ph.D. of this kind.
  • Preparation for the Dissertation Level (maximum 300 words) describing prior training that supports the dissertation stage of a Ph.D.—degrees, coursework and people with whom you’ve studied.
  • Work Experience (maximum 300 words) describing the work experience that has prepared you to undertake this dissertation.
  • Project Statement (maximum 1,000 words) outlining your interests and answering the question, "what do you want to explore?" Include books, articles, bodies of work, or other influences.
  • Proposed Advisors (maximum 300 words) or the kind of advisors with whom you might ideally like to work. Your committee need not be UArts faculty, and will be tailored for you.
  • Outcome Statement (100 words) explaining what you envision yourself doing with this degree.
  • Full Resume that best represents your training and achievements, which may include degrees, publications, and reviews.
  • Three Letters of Recommendation are required to address an applicant’s commitment and preparation for their project proposal. The name and email address of each referee must be included on the application. The letter should be sent by the referee directly to the University’s Admissions Office.
  • International Applicants must demonstrate fluency in spoken and written English. English proficiency will be assessed through writing samples and a personal or online interview.
  • If there was a master’s paper or the equivalent for your previous degree please forward a copy.

Start Your Application

2020 Application Timeline

  • October 15, 2019: application deadline
  • January 10, 2020: admission decisions issued
  • March 1, 2020: deposit deadline
  • June 15, 2020: the summer residency begins

All finalists for the Ph.D. must complete a personal or online interview. If accepted, a nonrefundable deposit of $1,000 (to be applied to the first-year tuition) will be required to hold a space in the program. In exceptional cases, this fee may be waived.

The Ph.D. in Creativity is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.


The annual tuition for the Ph.D. program is $44,800 a year. This will cover the cost of hiring top experts from around the world for dissertation committees and of administering the summer Creativity Immersion as well as the winter and second summer seminars. This fee does not include meals or housing.

The University does not offer assistantships, and fellowship funding from the University is limited. If eligible, students who complete the FAFSA may receive an offer of $20,500 in Federal Direct Unsubsidized loans. You can apply to borrow additional funds to cover your costs in the form of a Federal Direct Graduate PLUS loan or private educational loans. All students are strongly encouraged to seek fellowships from external sources in the forms of scholarships, grants, and fellowships from foundations and corporations. The Office of Student Financial Services at the University of the Arts can assist you in starting your funding search.

Please notify us if you have an outside company or agency that will be assisting with funding your degree. This will not disqualify you from being considered for University funds but will allow us to facilitate payment processing. As the majority of work is done remotely in this program students are not eligible for university health insurance.


Contact the program online.

Contact Us

Housing Options While in Residence

We encourage students to find housing within walking distance of the University of the Arts at nearby hotels or AirBnB residences. Students seeking assistance with housing options should contact our office by email: phdprogram@uarts.edu

The 2020 Calendar

A two-week residency is held during the first summer of the program for each cohort of Ph.D. students. This intensive Creativity Immersion course includes ongoing seminars on methods and the revision of the dissertation proposals. The 2020 summer residency will begin on the morning of Monday, June 15, and end on the afternoon of Monday, June 29. The midwinter residency for first-year students will be Jan. 10–13, 2020. In March 2020, students accepted into the Immersion course for June 2020 will be sent a reading list to be completed before arriving on June 15. The midwinter residency for the second cohort of first-year students will be held Jan. 22–25, 2021.


The University of the Arts, Hamilton Hall, Philadelphia

University of the Arts
Director of The Ph.D. in Creativity

Jonathan Fineberg is University Professor at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.  He is the author of Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being the most widely read survey of postwar art and co-creator (with John Carlin) of Imagining America: Icons of 20th Century American Art, the award winning PBS television documentary of 2005. He is the author of some 30 books and catalogs on modern art, including: Christo and Jeanne-Claude: On the Way to the Gates (Yale & Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY); The Innocent Eye: Children's Art and the Modern Artist (Princeton); When We Were Young: New Perspectives on the Art of the Child (University of California Press and The Phillips Collection, Washington DC); and most recently Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain (University of Nebraska Press, 2015). He is the Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Professor of Art History Emeritus at the University of Illinois and a Trustee Emeritus of The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., where he was founding Director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art. He earned his B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University, an M.A. from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and studied psychoanalysis at the Boston and Western New England Psychoanalytic Institutes. He has curated more than a dozen museum exhibitions, taught at Yale and at Illinois, and as a visitor at Harvard, Columbia, University of California, and elsewhere. His awards include the Pulitzer Fellowship in Critical Writing, the NEA Art Critic’s Fellowship, fellowships from the Dedalus Foundation, the Japan Foundation, the ACLS, the American Philosophical Society, and the College Art Association’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in the History of Art.

By redefining the underlying approach to their practice, our graduates return to the work world equipped with deep expertise in an area they will help to define.
— Jonathan Fineberg, Director of the Ph.D. in Creativity

Click on the photos below to learn more about UArts’ first cohort of Ph.D. candidates. 

Meet the First Ph.D. Cohort

A headshot of Ph.D. candidate Rose Benson
Rose Benson


Nurse anesthetist and researcher
A headshot of Ph.D. candidate Susannah Eig.
Susannah Eig


Theater director, producer and actor
A headshot of Ph.D. candidate Susan Gordon.
Susan Gordon


WSET-certified wine writer
A headshot of Ph.D. candidate Eugene Hughes.
Eugene Hughes


Psychotherapist, Artgym founder and filmmaker
A headshot of Ph.D. candidate Jessica Hunter-Larsen.
Jessica Hunter-Larsen


Associate director of innovation, Colorado College
A headshot of Ph.D. candidate Frank Machos.
Frank Machos


Executive director, Office of the Arts & Creative Learning, School District of Philadelphia
A headshot of Ph.D. candidate Patricia Salkin.
Patricia Salkin


Provost, Graduate and Professional Divisions, Touro College
A headshot of Ph.D. candidate Abel Tilahun.
Abel Tilahun


Filmmaker and artist
A headshot of Ph.D. candidate Cindy Veloric.
Cynthia Haveson Veloric


Art historian, environmentalist and researcher in American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art