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Gateway is the community newsletter of Pratt Institute. It is published monthly by the Office of Communications, in the Division of Institutional Advancement. For a list of contributors, click here.

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Monday
Mar212011

SLAS Gives Artists and Designers GROUNDING IN LIBERAL ARTS

School of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Toni Oliviero Reflects on 12 Years of Leadership Before Stepping Down
 

About a dozen years ago, the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences (SLAS) had 20 full-time faculty, was testing its new writing major with 12 students, and was working to earn approval from the Institute and the state to offer a bachelor of arts degree in cultural studies. 

Since then, the school has more than doubled its number of full-time faculty, grown the writing program into one of the most prestigious undergraduate writing programs in the U.S., created its cultural studies major, now called critical and visual studies, and is planning to offer an M.A. in media arts pending approval from the state. This would be Pratt’s first M.A. program.

The growth of SLAS comes not only amid Pratt’s overall expansion, but also amid a growing understanding that a well-rounded liberal arts education is crucial to training architects, graphic designers, and other creative professionals.

“Students who study architecture, communications design, or any of the other professional practices must have a solid grounding in the liberal arts,” says SLAS Dean Toni Oliviero. “The goal is to create a wholeness of education, so that thinking, reflection, practice, and production are not all separate from one another.”

Oliviero will step down as dean at the end of this school year, having served in the position for 12 years. Oliviero recalls first considering the dean’s job more than a dozen years ago, when she was an associate dean at the New School.

“I had a stereotype of the way colleges of art and design deal with the liberal arts and sciences,” she recalls. However, she says after visiting the school she changed her mind.  

“Faculty here had the freedom to invent courses and make connections to the arts that they might not in more traditional university settings,” Oliviero says, remembering her excitement about Pratt on that first visit.

The role of SLAS at Pratt is two-fold. First, it offers the liberal arts courses such as English, history, and math that are required of all undergraduates.

“Twenty five percent of the credits every undergraduate needs to take in order to graduate are offered through the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” Oliviero explains.

In addition, SLAS offers two majors: writing, and critical and visual studies. The writing major has become popular over the years, and now enrolls about 45 new students each year. Undergraduate creative writing programs are usually part of English literature programs, which makes Pratt’s program unique.

“Students who come to Pratt to do the writing program see themselves as artists who make their art out of words,” Oliviero says. “They want to be among the creative practitioners that Pratt trains.”

SLAS’s other major, critical and visual studies, Oliviero explains, “enables students who do not see themselves as professional artists, designers, or architects to reflect on the significance of the arts in the world.” Graduates of this B.A. program, which enrolls 15 new students a year, often go on to work in arts organizations and other cultural institutions.

Oliviero considers her chief accomplishment at SLAS to be doubling the number of full-time faculty in the school, thus allowing SLAS to compete with top liberal arts universities to attract the best professors and students.

Oliviero also credits Provost Peter Barna with much of SLAS’s success.

She recalls their first meeting and being prepared to convince Barna of the importance of liberal arts at a school of art and design. Instead, he stopped her almost immediately to say he wholeheartedly agreed.

He said, “‘If designers and artists in an era of globalization don’t reflect on how their work is connected to political theory, history, and literature, they will not be the most successful practitioners they can be.’”

Barna, in turn, says Oliviero has upheld this ideal.

“Under Dean Oliviero’s leadership, the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences has allowed thousands of artists, designers, and architects to enrich their art by developing this global perspective. Also under her leadership, SLAS has grown the writing and critical and visual studies majors, helping hundreds of students achieve their goals of becoming writers or analysts and critics of the arts.”

Oliviero also credits her own faculty, and also the faculty of the professional schools, many of whom, she says, have “jumped at the chance to collaborate and brainstorm with their colleagues who mostly think and write for a living.”

She says the result has been an increasing number of educational collaborations, including the expansion of the Writing Across the Curriculum program, and the creation of the innovative course Double Operative/Language Making, an English course designed for architecture students, that explores landscape and spatial construction as a narrative device.

Oliviero will take a sabbatical next year, during which she plans to work on a memoir, pursue her research on nineteenth-century U.S. slave narratives, and develop courses to teach when she returns. She says she is looking forward to returning to the classroom to vitalize the curriculum she has been so instrumental in developing.

However, with possible new programs on the horizon, an accomplished faculty, and all the ongoing academic collaborations, she says, “I envy my successor.”

Saturday
Mar192011

Artist Christo Speaks on art and on work with pratt students

Artist Christo with students from Design Studio IVMaking his fourth visit to Pratt Institute, the Bulgarian-born, French artist Christo gave a talk on March 10 about two works in progress —Over The River and The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi — as part of the School of Architecture Spring Lecture series. These will be the first works he will complete without his partner in creativity, his wife Jeanne-Claude, who passed away in 2009.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude achieved international renown for large-scale environmental works that wrapped buildings, monuments, and nature itself completely in cloth. Together they persevered for the many years it took to gain permission to achieve their works, facing heavy opposition from authorities and difficulties in financing.

“We failed to get permission for 36 projects,” recalled Christo. “All this is part of creativity. In 46 years, we did 22 projects. When a project is in our hearts, we have to do it.”

Christo cited as an example, The Gates, an installation of 7,503 saffron-colored fabric cloths in New York’s Central Park, which took 26 years of planning and perseverance before it could be realized in February 2005, thanks to the intervention of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Seated in the front row with the audience, Christo showed slides of Over the River, a work-in-progress that calls for translucent fabric panels to be constructed on the Arkansas River near Canon City, Colorado, in 2014. Showing maps and photos of the site, Christo described how he and Jeanne-Claude searched for three years for an appropriate location before choosing among 89 rivers the one that would best allow recreational rafting while the installation is on view.  

Artist Christo on stage at Memorial Hall“We never do the same thing again,” said Christo, as he projected images of numerous projects, among them The Umbrellas (1991, a simultaneous installation of 1,340 blue umbrellas in Japan and 1,760 yellow ones in California; and Wrapped Reichstag (1995, a project rejected three times before a debate and vote by members of the German parliament finally allowed it to happen). “Each project is a unique concept,” Christo remarked. “And temporary art is a conscious decision. We like to be confronted with something we will never see again.”

Another work in progress, The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi, a project for the United Arab Emirates, enlists the aid of Pratt architecture students. Conceived in 1977 and begun in 1978, it will be a massive work of art made of approximately 410,000 horizontally stacked oil barrels of various bright colors situated in the Arabian desert. Shrubbery will be planted around The Mastaba, a trapezoidal geometric shape that is a forerunner of the pyramids. There will be no ingress into the work; it will only be experienced from the outside. Like all Christo’s projects, The Mastaba’s only purpose is to be itself, giving visual satisfaction to viewers by enabling them to “enjoy the physicality of the art,” as Christo puts it. Parking and public facilities will be available, and Pratt students are involved in the design of a Visitors’ Campus.

Earlier in the day Christo had visited Design Studio IV, a graduate-level class in the School of Architecture led by Visiting Instructor Erich Schoenenberger. The studio is helping Christo develop a comprehensive possible solution for the project’s Visitors’ Campus. It will have a small exhibition space, a prayer space, a tour departure facility, and a small overnight accommodation facility for visitors.

The challenge to Pratt students is to design this campus without formally referencing their design to The Mastaba, yet addressing the desert conditions of the site. As Christo stated during the lecture’s Q&A session, “Four teams of students articulated how to approach this project, and we had a lively exchange and discussion about the visual presentation materials we will need to visualize the Visitor’s Campus for decision makers.” Christo added that the project has not changed since the death of Jeanne-Claude.

Photos: Kevin Wick

Friday
Mar182011

ART AND DESIGN EDUCATION STUDENTS TEACH IN Brooklyn Homeless Shelter

Artwork produced by children in the Junius Family Shelter in BrooklynDuring the spring semester for the last four years, Pratt Art and Design Education students taking the course Student Teaching: After School have conducted an art teaching program at the Junius Family Shelter/Women In Need, a Brooklyn facility that houses displaced families.

The course is taught by Lisa Capone (M.F.A. Sculpture ’95), an adjunct instructor in the department. “The class is an exhilarating combination of art making and community outreach,” says Capone. “Its aim is to empower our students ability to connect with the larger issues of the day.”

On Monday evenings from 5:30-7 PM, these Pratt students teach art to homeless children in the Junius Family shelter. Afterwards, the students meet for an hour-long seminar to analyze the class just taught. The course is not only a boon to the children—who enjoy drawing, painting, and working in clay and wire—but also a novel approach for Pratt students to gain useful experience before starting the formal student teaching required for New York State certification.

Artwork produced by children in the Junius Family Shelter in BrooklynPratt students come to the shelter well prepared to help disadvantaged children. To overcome any preconceived notions, students are required to complete readings about the family shelter system, the lives of homeless children, and socio-cultural themes in education. This background helps them design and teach art classes that encourage children’s creativity and heighten their self-esteem.

“Art is therapeutic,” says Shoshana Goldsmith (M.S. Art and Design Education ’11), a repeat participant who is writing her master’s thesis on the use of art programs in homeless shelters. “It keeps the kids busy and gives them something to feel good about. It also keeps them out of trouble and out of the shelter’s hallways. Many of the kids are talented, and this helps them become more resourceful.”

Pratt students learn to design lessons that will tap the inner experiences of at-risk children so they can express themselves in meaningful ways. They also learn how to distribute and collect materials, and effective strategies for classroom management. They teach their pupils how to keep a dialogic journal, using “thick description” as they refer to the archival build up of drawings, dialogues, and other documentation that children aged 5-15 compile during the 10-week duration of the course to build up their visual, verbal, and written skills. Their weekly sketchbook entries this year have explored the theme of  “home.”

To showcase the children’s joyful progress in the visual arts, Goldsmith is preparing an exhibition of their work, titled “No Where to Hang Up My Art,” which will be on display from March 22 through April 11 at The Nancy Ross Gallery on the second floor of Main Building, room 227.  

For the last six years the Department of Art and Design Education has offered a similar practicum course at Pratt Manhattan, giving students the opportunity to teach art to inner-city high school students at off-site learning facilities such as galleries, museums, and other nearby cultural venues. The after-school program meets on Fridays at 2 PM during the fall semester, and Pratt student instructors are finding that teaching art in the world outside of academe can lead to some interesting results.

Thanks to her enrollment in this course, current Pratt student Rachel Margolis is a teaching intern at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and recent graduate Gina Llerena (M.S. Art and Design Education ’10), who interned at the Rubin Museum, is now on the Education Department staff at The Museum of Modern Art. 

Photos: Shoshana Goldsmith (M.S. ’11)