Bookends: MFA Illustration Exhibition

Maria Carluccio
Maria Carluccio

The remarkable ability of illustration to tell complex, moving stories is on full display at “Bookends,” this year’s exhibition of visual theses by 11 students graduating from FIT’s Master of Fine Arts in Illustration. This is outstanding visual work, full of gripping imagery and engaging narratives.

The MFA is a three-year program with classes exclusively during evening and weekend hours so students can hold on to day jobs while studying. It has the distinction of being FIT’s first “terminal degree,” the highest academic degree awarded to individuals studying in a particular area of the fine arts.

You might be surprised to know that the work is not all visual. In their second year of study, students present written research theses—developed in close coordination with faulty—on various aspects of illustration.

“The MFA at FIT is a very demanding program of study,” Professor Melanie Reim said, who created the program for FIT’s School of Graduate Studies. “The students work hard developing both written and visual theses. We stress the parallel consistency between the written and the visual because writing is a very important part of a career in illustration.”

And students pursue their research while also developing their individual visual aesthetic, fully integrating digital aspects of illustration with traditional studio practice.

Along with the exhibit, the MFA students presented their work at the Society of Illustrators to “art buyers”—publishing professionals involved in hiring illustrators.

“Students made a dream list of editors and art directors they would like to work with and sent invitations to them,” said Professor Brendan Leach, who also teaches in the program. “Each student ‘pitched’ their work, and the feedback they got from the attendees was great.”

MFA student Laura Brokaw Boren described the event as being “extremely useful to get [our] work in front of professionals, not to mention getting feedback from those same professionals.”

Another MFA student, Diana Schoenbrun, agreed. “This was the first opportunity we had to speak in front of people not affiliated with the school in a professional setting,” said Ms. Schoenbrun. Her visual thesis, titled Simon and the Sea, is a children’s book that she both wrote and illustrated.

So stop into the Museum at FIT to see just some of the creative and innovative visions FIT students carry into the wider world when they graduate. The exhibit is on display through July 9 and is free and open to the public.

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Dennis Basso, John and Laura Pomerantz, and QVC Honored at Annual Gala

One of the highlights of the FIT year is always our annual gala, and this year it was  especially so. That we raised $1.7 million certainly was part of what made it so special. But I think that this year our gala just had a kind of magical ambiance. It was held at the Plaza Hotel and the room, beautifully lit and decorated, positively glowed.

Added to that was a warmth and cheer that radiated throughout the room, owing, I think, to our illustrious honorees: Dennis Basso, John and Laura Pomerantz, and QVC—all of whom are part of the FIT family. Dennis is an FIT alumnus; John and Laura are among the college’s most devoted long-term supporters, and QVC, the home shopping pioneer, is one of our newest partners. Mike George, QVC’s president and CEO accepted the “Retailer of the Year” award and it was a pleasure welcoming him and his company into the FIT family. It was a pleasure, too, seeing so many of our guests looking so glamorous in gowns by Dennis Basso! I will let these photos tell the rest of the story!

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Bee-Education Project Takes Flight

honeybeeBees will find a home on campus next year as part of our sustainability efforts.

FIT Hives, a bee-education project developed by students Shona Neary, a Fine Arts major and Sarah Langenbach, a Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing major, will set up an actual  bee hive here on campus next semester.

“FIT has many of industry’s future creators, so it is important to make the community at FIT think about where they get their supplies and resources,” Sarah said. The team’s bee-education message is that “everything is connected” and the use natural products in cosmetics helps “sustain a full-circle loop in our economy.”

Shona and Sarah recently presented FIT Hives at the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) held this year at the University of California in Berkeley. Sarah described the meeting as “an incredible experience,” adding that “CGIU facilitated idea sharing, provided skill-building workshops, and hosted many compelling and fascinating speakers.”

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Sarah Langenbach and Shōna Neary at NYC’s Bee Village in Battery Park

The project is first funded through our Innovation Grant program, launched in 2015 from FIT’s Office of Academic Affairs, with help from the Division of Enrollment Management and Student Success and the FIT Student Association. The grants support collaborative projects that cross academic disciplines and stretch intellectual and artistic boundaries.

In addition to meeting those criteria, Sarah and Shona’s project is timely. Apis mellifera Linnaeus, commonly known as the honeybee, is under severe threat from “colony collapse disorder.” Scientists have put forth a range of theories for the cause of the disorder, ranging from environmental factors to the use of new, potentially dangerous pesticides.

You might be surprised to learn that, as though in response to the threat to bees, New York City has become a “hive” of urban beekeeping activity. As of 2014, more than 250 honeybee hives had been registered with the city, according to The New York Times. So, Sarah and Shona have ready bee resources here in the city as they decide on a campus location for the hive and work to find an experienced bee keeper to care for the hive year-round.

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Sourcing a possible location for a hive on one of FIT’s green roofs.

The grant also supports a documentary focused on bees in the environment with an emphasis on the fine arts and cosmetics industries. Max Hechtman and Shoshana Rabinowitz, students in our Film and Media program, will assist in the creation of the documentary, which will be shown to the campus community early in the 2016 fall semester.

I am so pleased to see the creative and innovative approaches our students bring to all issues, and I look forward to watching FIT Hives blossom here at home and out beyond the borders of FIT.

» See more photos and learn more about the project at the FIT HIVES Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FITHIVES/

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FIT Students Present Three Proposals at Clinton Global Initiative University

The blossoming relationship between FIT and the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), I am happy to report, continues to flourish.

A year ago, I posted about a pair of FIT students—Lydia Baird and Willa Tsokanis—who presented their plans for an innovative muslin-composting project at the 2015 CGI U in Miami. Their project is now fully functioning and the nutrient-rich material the project produces is used all over campus in our many green spaces and on our green roof system.

The year before that, three of our students — Caitlin Powell, Amber Harkonen, and Meghan Navoy — attended the 2014 CGI U to present their proposal to develop the natural dye garden, now in place on the 9th floor terrace of the Feldman Center, which also happens to make use of the composted muslin.

Both projects grew out of grants from FIT’s Sustainability Council, which I initiated to develop and foster sustainability initiatives throughout our community.

l-r: Sarah Langenbach, Shona Neary, Jillian Oderwald, Amanda Farr, Sabrya Said, Ayodele Myers

Now, I am proud to say that in early April, FIT students presented not just one, but three innovative project proposals at the 2016 CGI U, hosted by President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton at the University of California, Berkeley. The CGI U is highly competitive, with only about one in six projects accepted for presentation.

Three cheers are in order for FIT and our many student presenters and their winning proposals at this year’s CGI U.

FIT HIVES, developed by Shona Neary, a Fine Arts major, and Sarah Langenbach, a Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing major, would establish a bee education program by setting up a bee hive at FIT. Students from the Film and Media Program will make a documentary as the project progresses. Currently, Ms. Neary and Ms. Langenbach are in discussions with beekeepers and Host-a-Hive programs to identify possible locations for the hive and to find a beekeeper who could care for the hive year-round. They also are working to educate FIT students about the importance of bees in the environment, with the goal of connecting FIT students with local beekeepers to develop sustainable, bee-derived resources for projects, products, and designs.

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FIT Natural Dye Garden: Next Phase, developed by Jillian Oderwald, a Textile Development and Marketing major, and Amanda Farr, a Fashion Business Management major, advances the work of the FIT Natural Dye Garden. The Dye Garden promotes sustainable and eco-friendly dyeing practices. The project would increase outreach beyond FIT via social media, through Facebook and Instagram, as well as a stand-alone website on how to plant a garden or conduct research. Further outreach may include tours of the garden and workshops on natural dyeing for students in local schools.

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STEAM Into Action, developed by Sabrya Said, an Advertising and Marketing Communications major, and Ayodele Myers, a Fashion Business Management major, adds an “A” for “art” to the STEM acronym (science, technology, engineering, and math). The project would hold workshops on campus to introduce underrepresented students in middle and high school to opportunities in tech, arts, and higher education. FIT students would invite students from area schools to participate in workshops and mentorship programs and serve as role models for the younger students.

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I wish all three presentation teams, and the FIT faculty members who helped shepherd them along the way, continued success as their projects make the transition from proposal to real-world implementation.

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Edit the Statistic

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What a delight to see every workstation occupied with student writers and editors typing away in the computer lab at Gladys Marcus Library for the Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon. A quick glance revealed students working on pages ranging from “Pattern Grading” to “Gothic Cathedrals” to the “British Fashion Council,” to name just a few.

The event, which took place on International Women’s Day, ties in with a broad-based effort by the Wikimedia Foundation, the online encyclopedia’s parent organization, to address the gender imbalance among editors of Wikipedia, the seventh most viewed website in the world.

Helen Lane, Emerging Technologies Librarian, who helped bring the event to campus, explained that only 8.5 percent of Wikipedia’s volunteer contributors are female. She and Stephenie Futch, a member of our Technology Development Team, organized the event as part of the Women and Technology: Symposium. They want to encourage student editors to make entries and edits to address the unequal representation of women on the site, and they received Diversity Grant funding to help make the event happen.

“We want to engage women and the entire campus community with a fairly easy way to access a technological experience,” Professor Lane said. “A lot of women shy away from the hard technical aspects of the digital world. And this event is one way for everyone to get involved without a huge technical literacy.”

The underrepresentation on the site isn’t limited to gender. Art and design topics tend to be marginalized. As an example, Professor Lane cited the page on Ruth Ansel, an important and influential graphic designer. Ansel worked at major fashion magazines for more than 40 years and won a lifetime achievement award in 2016 that is the equivalent of an Oscar in her profession. But the Wikipedia entry on her is just three paragraphs.

“Meanwhile,” Professor Lane adds, “every single Pokemon character has extensive representation.”

Sarah Gold, an ITM major, who has edited Wikipedia pages in the past, was busily working on pages related to international trade. She also planned to work on a page for Trash and Vaudeville, a punk-fashion landmark on the Lower East Side.

“I’m learning how to start a new topic page,” Ms. Gold said. “But I’ve also been able to use the library research tools to insert better-quality citations for existing pages.”

Unequal representation on Wikipedia is changed one page at a time, it seems, and the FIT community is right there, as always, leading the way.

When I initiated the Diversity Fund Grant some years ago, I had no way of knowing exactly what sort of projects would grow out of it. And so, as our computer lab is transformed into a hive of paradigm-shifting digital activity by FIT librarians and students, it is truly gratifying to see, on International Women’s Day, that growth in action.

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