The Studio: Artists in Residence

It is altogether possible to walk through our Art and Design Gallery in the Pomerantz lobby and never notice the glass-encased balcony-like space situated directly over the entrance turnstiles. After all, the gallery is so dazzling and its displays so captivating that your attention is riveted to what is immediately before you. However, for several weeks over the past academic year, that space above the gallery—which we call The Studio—beckoned with equal allure as it showcased FIT’s first “artist-in-residence” program. The program’s mission is to bring in outside artists recommended by faculty who will engage with our students and faculty in projects that reflect the artists’ specialty. Under the supervision of acting associate dean of art and design Melanie Reim, it had a soft launch in October with FIT alum John Anthony’56 who conducted a master class in fashion design for approximately 25 students. The program really took off in the spring semester during which time three artists with very different practices occupied the Studio, each for three consecutive days. There were Kathleen Granados, who creates sculptures from fibers and everyday objects, Ruben Marroquin , a textile designer and weaver and Bethany Robertson, an illustrator and hand-lettering artists.

With each artist, the 856 square foot Studio—formally room D-223—looked altogether different. When Ruben Marroquin was in residence, the worktables were filled with colorful yarns and small looms that he supplied—while the interior walls displayed the artist’s own work: images vibrantly stitched with yarns. Participating students took to the looms, discovering their expressive possibilities in terms of color and design. The Studio was equally alive with Kathleen Granados, whose own fiber-based sculpture acted as inspiration for the students who were asked to create artwork based on a line of poetry they received from the artist. The students working with Bethany Robertson were given paper to cut and fold that was integrated onto a brilliantly-colored oversized foam-based installation resembling botanical and organic forms.

The artists worked with students during the common hour on two days. On a third day,- they were free to use the studio for their own work. While faculty invited their students to take part, in fact, many of the participating students were drop-ins—curious passersby who were lured in by the activities they witnessed. For these students in particular, the “artist-in-residence” program was a real plus: they walked in with no expectations and walked out having expanded their artistic skills and horizons. The enthusiasm and excitement in the studio was palpable—enough to attract some attention from viewers in the downstairs gallery. An excellent start to a very worthwhile program!

artist in front of wall collage of leaves
Bethany Robertson
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FIT’s Global Reach: Fulbrights

I was so proud to learn that this year, FIT had three Fulbright scholarship winners—our highest number ever. It was so high in fact, that FIT was included, for the first time ever, in the list of U.S. colleges and universities that produced the highest number of U.S. Fulbright scholars. The Fulbright, like the Rhodes and the Marshall, is one of the most competitive and prestigious scholarship programs in the world.

So congratulations to awardees Joseph Antee, associate professor of Fashion Business Management, Brenda Cowan, associate professor and associate chair of Exhibition and Experience Design, and Deirdre Sato, dean for International Education. Each was chosen based on academic merit and leadership potential.

I am equally pleased to see FIT, with its growing global reach, recognized by so important and influential an organization as the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which makes the awards. Since the goal of the Fulbright program is to improve cultural relations among nations, it makes sense that FIT would rise to the top. Fashion, after all, is a global enterprise. That is one reason why globalism is such a vital part of the FIT mission. We are worldwide with our robust study abroad and international internship programs, as well as our long standing campuses in Florence and Milan, and our recently established presence in Incheon, South Korea, as part of SUNYKorea. We also have a dual-degree program with Istanbul Technical University.

Complementing these programs are our numerous study abroad offerings in China, England and Europe as well as Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. Indeed, as part of our pedagogy, we teach students to navigate, appreciate, and forge business and cultural connections in countries unlike their own. These connections are particularly important in times when friction dominates the international landscape, as happens all too frequently.

The Fulbright awards represent a powerful statement about FIT’s growth and promise on the international stage. I am confident that our students and the rest of the FIT community will be enriched by the experiences of our Fulbright awardees on their return.

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Prom Plus

students selecting dresses from multiple racks of clothing

It was like a scene from “Yes to the Dress;” all it lacked was Randy Fenoli and wedding plans. It was, instead, all about proms—and it was taking place on the 8 th floor of Dubinsky on a Sunday afternoon in April. There were racks of gowns; stacks of dancing shoes; tables filled with sparkling jewelry and fancy beaded bags and a hair and make-up station, courtesy of Aveda. Then there were the young women—about 35 of them, seniors from the city’s public high schools. It was their day. They were here to find the dress of their dreams. They were here as part of a program called Prom Plus NYC, and as the program founder, Michelle Castro Douglass, told them, “ You deserve this.”

Michelle Douglass is a friend of mine and she told me all about Prom Plus, which she established in 2015. Designed to support underserved New York City students, it provides mentoring, life skill workshops—and finally, and especially, this special “boutique” day. And it is special: all of the gowns and accessories are gifts to the students. They are free. More than one student asked, “But can we really keep these?” The answer, of course, was yes.

The students come to Prom Plus through recommendations from its partner, Statement Arts, a long-established arts and college prep program that serves the same population. Its founder, Liza Politi, was also present. These were students whom she recruited: talented, hard working, high achieving young people with limited financial means, and she was proud of them. Indeed, all of the students whom I met that afternoon were college-bound—and the partnership with Statement Arts explained not only why they were college-bound, but also why so many of them were expecting to major in dance or media or drama programs.

The real drama took place at the racks and then behind screens set up by a team of FIT student Tiger volunteers under the supervision of Christie Graziano, FIT’s associate director of leadership and civic engagement who, when she learned about Prom Plus, thought it would be a perfect community service activity. The gowns were arranged by size, from 0 to 24. But there was palpable concern: would there be enough to choose from in my size? (There were.) Called up in groups of about eight, they rushed to the racks, grabbed their favorite gowns and went behind the screens to start trying them on. And as each emerged from behind the screens, dressed to kill in siren red jersey or pale grey satin or tiger printed taffeta, the looks on their faces told the whole story. Were they saying “yes to the dress?” Without a doubt!

Then they accessorized, selecting shoes and jewelry—the vast majority of which, by the way, was generously donated through the Accessories Council, and I have to say, the jewelry was beautiful.

It was utterly touching to witness how happy these young people were, the fun they were having, and .the joy they expressed at each step along the way. Not that there weren’t some moments of doubt: was the color right? Was it too revealing? Does it flatter? But in the end, they all seemed to have found a gown that was right for them. One curvy young woman was absolutely ecstatic at having found a gown in her size by her favorite designer (Tadashi Shoji) because, she said, “His designs are not usually inclusive.”

Did I mention that there were two young men in the group? Ms. Douglass said she opened the program up to males this year and had suits , shirts and ties available. The two young men were proud to learn how to knot a tie—and even enjoyed it.

male student chooses prom outfit

As much as the world has changed since I was a teenager, the symbolism of the senior prom has not. It remains even today a rite of passage, a big fancy party that marks the end of high school—a party that almost all teenagers want to attend. Yet the majority of students I spoke with made clear that had it not been for this program, they would not be going to their proms—they simply could not afford it.

I did meet some, however, whose families were saving and sacrificing , hoping they could put enough aside to purchase that coveted gown. One young woman, destined for the media program at Pace College, said that she can’t wait to surprise her mother—who didn’t know about Prom Plus and was working extra hours to be able to buy a gown for her daughter. The student had selected a crowd favorite: a soft yellow romantic chiffon gown with a spray of apricot flowers at the waist. “I feel like a princess when I wear it,” she said. She had expected to attend the prom alone, which I gather is a norm these days. But , she said, “Now that I have this princess look, I want to go with a prince…” and yes, she assured me, she had two “princes” to choose from.

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The Museum at FIT 50th Anniversary

The 50th anniversary party for the Museum at FIT offered a welcome opportunity, in the middle of a dreary February, for celebration. To acknowledge this milestone moment in the museum’s history, its director and chief curator, Valerie Steele, and curator of costume and accessories, Colleen Hill, selected from 33 of the museum’s most influential—and often groundbreaking—exhibits to create yet another sensational show: “Exhibitionism: 50 Years of the Museum at FIT.” This could not have been easy since there were over 200 from which to choose. Just before the doors to the party opened, Valerie—chic as always in black—conducted a private tour of the show for members of our Couture Council.

Museum guests tour the exhibition.
Museum guests tour the exhibition.

Our own Michael Kors calls the museum “the fashion insiders’ fashion museum”—an apt observation! Indeed, the museum lobby was filled to capacity with festive fashion insiders, many of whom happily walked the red carpet on arrival. The mood was celebratory; the crowd was lively, there was a buzz and a real sense of excitement. Valerie and I both offered champagne toasts as did our guest of honor, Tim Gunn, who acknowledged the museum on behalf of the fashion community. Calling the exhibit a “huge wow moment,” he saluted the museum’s relevance and innovative spirit.

Tim Gunn with Dr. Joyce F. Brown and Dr. Valerie Steele
Tim Gunn with Dr. Joyce F. Brown and Dr. Valerie Steele

The show is so alluring that in the midst of all the merrymaking, many guests who wandered down to see it became fully absorbed, and spent much of the rest of the evening there. I think they all would agree with the Wall Street Journal, whose reviewer wrote, “Thank heaven for FIT” for creating the Museum at FIT which has played a “seminal role in framing fashion as art and the fashion exhibition as a display of ideas as well as clothes.” Amen to that!

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Civility for the Season

It’s holiday time—the time of year for me to say thank you to you—the members of the FIT community for all of your good work…for all that you contribute to our legacy and to the students whose lives are transformed within our walls. Year after year, we send thousands of eager, well-educated young people out into the world to make their mark. Indeed, the work that we do to nurture and educate them—whether as faculty, staff, or administration—is work that builds and fuels civilization.

But what can I say about the world into which they are sent. It is a frightening and discouraging place. It is a place where incivility has become the norm and disrespect for tradition and decency prevails. Here at FIT, we have tried to mitigate that trend with a civility campaign that has started to take root within the community. . Right now, the campus is filled with works of art created by faculty, staff and students that are “expressions of civility”—an extraordinary outpouring of work that interprets civility in ways that are surprising, heartening, and illuminating. It is my hope that our students have imbibed enough of its messages to help them navigate the ugliness they will inevitably encounter.

It is my hope, too, that each of us can use this season to reflect on ways that can have a leavening impact on the incivility, anxiety and vulnerability that so many of our neighbors are experiencing. So be kind, be civil, give back in some way…engage in service: it will be the best present you can give to yourself this season—and every other.

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