A Model Citizen…a Model Neighbor

How many times have we all heard the admonition: if you see something, say something? Fortunately for us, it was that simple admonition that nagged at our neighbor Jane Shreibman when she spotted an oddly wired device in a trashcan outside her West 27th Street apartment one September Saturday night. It was two hours after West 23rd Street was rocked by a huge explosion that ended up injuring 31 people. Her initial reaction was to keep on walking, but not for long. She called 911—and as you probably know, that phone call saved lives. The device turned out to be an explosive as well.


We were fortunate to have the opportunity to honor Ms. Shreibman recently at a lovely event here on the FIT campus co-hosted by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Many local officials, including New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Holyman, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, as well as members of the FIT community and the public, were there. Also present were Deputy Inspector and Commanding Officer Brendan Timoney and Community Affairs Officer Detective Ray Dorrian—both with the 13th precinct of the NYPD and both eager to show their appreciation.

Ms. Shreibman, who lives just a half-block from campus, is more than a nearby neighbor. She is also a Center for Professional Studies and Continuing Education student who has been taking courses with us for many years. I was struck by some of the things she said regarding her decision to call 911. Like so many of us—I suspect—she had her doubts about whether to call. After all, she said, she was used to seeing lots of “crazy objects” tossed away on the city’s streets. Still, she thought it would be irresponsible not to call. And when she did, still uncertain of her instinct, she apologized to the 911 dispatcher “in case I was wasting their time,” she said.

I think we can all agree that Ms. Shreibman performed an exemplary act of citizenship, compassion and community service, one that we all can learn from. As I said at the event, I believe that this one phone call puts to rest whatever cynicism we may harbor about the capacity of one person to make a difference.


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Albert Kriemler Honored at Couture Council Luncheon

There was a special warmth at this year’s Couture Council luncheon which had nothing to do with the brilliant early September sun or the lovely ambiance at the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. It came from our awardee Albert Kriemler , creative director of Akris, who radiated gratitude, appreciation and humility with every word and gesture. There were at least 400 ardent admirers in the audience, many of them turned out in elegant Akris designs, and I think they would agree.

Akris is an international fashion house headquartered in Switzerland and it is where Mr. Kriemler is based. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Kriemler offered a valentine to New York City, reflecting on the way it has inspired him over the years and the role it has played in his career. Indeed, rather than showing his collection in Paris this year, as he always does, he is—for the first time ever—showing it here in New York…“as a tribute,” he said, “to the Couture Council and to give back … the love and respect this city has offered to me since I was only starting.”

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1,000 Voices in “The Public Domain”

I wasn’t there. I didn’t hear it; I didn’t see it. But from what I’ve read, I am sorry I missed it. “It” is “The Public Domain”—a choral work for 1,000 volunteer singers that was performed on the main plaza at Lincoln Center a few weeks ago. It was composed by a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer named David Lang whose goal was to create what he called a “…democratic piece…that invited in amateurs and took as its topic things we all might share.” To develop his text, he used the internet search-engine auto-complete function to see what the phrase “one thing we all share” might yield. Among the phrases he selected: “love of music,” “favorite sandwich,” and “time, until it stops.”

But text and music notwithstanding, what really moved me was the event itself, not just the breathtaking scale of it, but the full spectacle of 1000 people—mostly strangers, of all ages and descriptions—coming together, joyfully and in collaboration, to fulfill Mr. Lang’s utopian musical vision. It was a truly “only in New York” moment. I cannot imagine what it was like to successfully identify, corral, teach, and rehearse a thousand mostly amateur singers in a new composition.

Both Lang and the singers had to have been brave souls, because they were not joining up to perform something familiar, like Handel’s “Messiah,” or easy, like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” What they needed to master was something altogether new, musically unconventional, innovative, and challenging…something that would require intense focus, commitment, patience, cooperation, and personal time. Moreover, they would be performing in the most exposed of public spaces around the fountain at Lincoln Center with an audience invited to wander among them in order to enhance the democratic spirit of the event. There was a conductor who led a team of 25 other conductors, each placed with a section of the singers. And there was a choreographer as well.

As it turns out, Mr. Lang had no difficulty recruiting singers: more than 2000 volunteered. (You can always count on New Yorkers!) And as it turns out, the performance was a triumph, with four star reviews, even though it took place on one of those sultry, stifling New York afternoons when the temperature was in the mid-90’s and the humidity was out-of- bounds. Over 2,000 intrepid, adventurous, music-loving people showed up and when the performance was over, according to The New York Times, “all the performers and listeners cheered one another.”

Perhaps what most evoked my admiration about this event was its sheer optimism. Open-hearted, egalitarian, and totally collaborative, it vigorously defied the desultory tenor of today’s public life. As Lang said, “We do need each other, we are around each other, we do get something from each other and we are alike.” So when another day goes by—filled with divisive, rancorous rhetoric and yet more terrible news—remember “The Public Domain,” and all it demonstrated about the potential of the human spirit, right here, in the heart of New York City.

Watch the making of The Public Domain:

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FIT Students Take First in Biodesign Challenge

I find FIT endlessly gratifying—a constant source of pride and delight. Who would expect that this college, with its celebrated focus on art and design and business, would take first prize in a design competition with a focus on science? Yet that is just what happened when, in June, at a presentation at the Museum of Modern Art, FIT’s team was declared the winner of the first annual Biodesign Challenge.

The Challenge, developed by a group of leading scientists, designers, and educators, involved nine colleges and universities, including some notable for their science programs, such as Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pennsylvania, and Rensselaer Polytechnic University.

Submissions were aimed at demonstrating the potential of biological design to make a substantial difference in the world. One of the competition’s founders, Daniel Grushkin, has said that his motivation for starting it was to witness the “growth of a community. Artists, designers, and scientists who might ordinarily keep to opposite sides of campus came together to work with the students.”

l-r: Gian Cui, Aleksandra Gosiewski, Tessa Callaghan, Aaron Nesser

Our team included Tessa Callaghan, Gian Cui, and Aleksandra Gosiewski, along with Aaron Nesser, a student at the Pratt Institute. All three FIT students are studying in the knitwear specialization in the fashion design program. Together, they developed an experimental technique to literally “grow” a kind of yarn from bacteria and fungi. They even produced—and displayed at the MOMA presentation—a sample hand-knit tiny T-shirt made from their novel material. They also developed a process to 3D print the material. Their idea serves as a demonstration project for the use of biological design to develop sustainable alternatives to the manufacture of conventional textiles.

Bioesters Biodesign Video from Biodesign Challenge on Vimeo.

It’s certainly a worthy cause—and one that fits in well with FIT’s sustainability goals and the amazingly diverse, but focused, skill sets FIT students possess. What also pleases me about the award is the light it shines on the creative, innovative, and real-world capabilities FIT students bring to everything they do, a sentiment echoed by fashion design professor Asta Skocir. Skocir, one of the team’s advisors, describes FIT as a “maker” school. “The nature of what we do is to design from initial concept to finished product,” she says. “Rather than looking at this material solely as a molecular structure, the students examined it through a fashion designer’s lens.”

One of the college’s strengths in this competition was its interdisciplinary and diverse set of advisors, including interior design professor Carmita Sanchez-Fong and science and math professors Theanne Schiros and Alexandra Wright, who worked with Sass Brown, acting associate dean of the School of Art and Design, to bring bioethics and biomaterials experts to campus.

The award is a tangible example not only of our capabilities, but also of our powerful potential in the cutting-edge, highly technical science-based fields so rarely associated with a college of art and design and business like FIT.

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Enhanced Exhibition Space on 7th Avenue

Toward the end of every spring semester, the lobby in our Pomerantz Art and Design Center comes alive with an end-of-year display created by graduating students from our Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design department. These exhibits—like all of the arresting art and design exhibits we situate in that space throughout the year—bring passersby to the windows of the building, fascinated by the displays on view.

Unfortunately, we do not have enough room on this campus to showcase all of the extraordinary work our students—or our faculty—produce. But here is the good news: we are about to embark on a renovation project that will offer vastly more space for our School of Art and Design to display its student and faculty work. The project, an expansion of the lobby in the Pomerantz Art and Design Center, will more than double the interior space to almost 4000 square feet. A smaller, closed-off gallery will be created out of the space currently occupied by members of the Continuing and Professional Studies staff. There even will be room for a catering kitchen to service events in the lobby, or Katie Murphy or the Great Hall.

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Changes to the exterior of the building will be equally dramatic. The new lobby will stretch all the way to the 27th Street subway station, and the façade will be entirely sheathed in glass, offering even more opportunity for passersby to admire the work on display. The entrance will be on Seventh Avenue, creating a more welcoming institutional face to the community. It is an elegant design, and I believe its sweep and beauty will transform the Seventh Avenue streetscape.

This is one of 60 renovation projects to emerge from our revised facilities master plan and I am delighted to tell you that it will begin by the end of the summer. We hope its new doors will be open in another year.

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