American College of the Building Arts Merges Art, Craft, and Science

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Expertise in plaster offers a unique opportunity for Lowcountry students

By Barry Waldman

Are you a recent graduate but still don’t know what you want to do? Or perhaps you’re creative and artistic, with little desire to be stuck behind a desk job? Are you looking for a career whose practitioners are in high demand?

If so, why not earn a bachelor’s degree from the American College of the Building Arts (ACBA)? Here, you’ll find the nation’s only four-year liberal arts college that offers a focus on the traditional building trades, including blacksmithing, carpentry, classical architecture, stone carving, timber framing, and one you may not readily think of —plaster.

The advantages of learning the plastering trade at American College of the Building Arts are numerous, and they start with jobs.

1. Graduate with a marketable skill

Expertise in plaster is in serious demand in cities across the world—especially here in Charleston. Most people think of plaster as flatwork like walls and ceilings, “but plaster encompasses so much more, including decorative elements of crown moldings, ceiling medallions, and other ornamental additions,” says Professor Steve Kester, chair of the ACBA Plaster Department. The opportunities have expanded in recent years as builders and designers opt for more decorative elements, such as Scagliola and Venetian Plaster, which creates a mesmerizing marble effect. The above, paired with other elements like sculpting and model making, create boundless opportunities for highly skilled professionals – and cannot be obtained from traditional liberal arts colleges.

2. Work outdoors in a creative endeavor

Why sit behind a computer all day when you can work anywhere in an intellectually stimulating and creative environment? Working with plaster marries art, craft, and science—great for anyone who wants to make a living doing work that inspires them, producing beautiful things on display for the world to see every day, for generations to come!

3. Get the best of a trade school and university education

The American College of the Building Arts is more than a four-year liberal arts education and more than a trade school. It is the best of both. ACBA builds upon the university degree by adding in journeyman-level trade expertise and an extensive portfolio of real-world projects. Students receive a liberal arts curriculum integrated with the traditional trades. (ACBA is accredited by ACCSC, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.)

4. Enjoy a college experience in an amazing, historic city

Take classes in a restored car barn that once housed the city’s electric trolleys and enjoy the South’s most charming city, rated No. 1 by a host of websites, blogs, and travel magazines. Historic downtown Charleston, SC, is a canvas for the skills being taught at ACBA, allowing students to fan out across the area every summer for externships in their fields.

5. Get a college degree without breaking the bank

The American College of the Building Arts has never raised tuition since 2005, during which time the cost of attending colleges across the United States increased an average of 58%. With tuition at an affordable $10,000 per semester and scholarships and loans available to those who qualify, students can attend ACBA without bankrupting their future.

6. Visit an Open House and see for yourself

ACBA encourages interested students to experience the college firsthand at an Open House. Here, you can see the beautiful campus in the dynamic NoMo section of Charleston. View presentations from all the craft specializations, meet current students and alumni, and engage with the exceptional faculty. You are sure to be inspired! ACBA encourages all prospective students to attend. The next Open Houses in 2022 are Saturday, January 15, February 19, March 26, and April 23 from 9 a.m. to noon. For more information and to sign up, visit or call 843-266-7835.