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Thursday
May102012

Hope for Grads: Commencement Speakers Give Reasons for Optimism

L to R: Graduating students jump for joy outside of Radio City Music Hall; Pratt's 123rd annual Commencement exercises at Radio City Music Hall

More than 1,400 graduates and hundreds of family and friends celebrated Pratt’s annual commencement this month, a ceremony that Pratt President Thomas F. Schutte noted was especially significant because the Institute is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

“Throughout this year, we are commemorating the Institute’s legacy of creativity and innovation. That legacy is due in large part to Pratt’s incredible alumni who have produced some of the most defining works of our time and whose ranks you are about to join,” he said.

Pratt awarded honorary degrees to contemporary artist, curator, and social, political, and cultural critic Ai Weiwei, who accepted his honorary degree via a video presentation; architect, engineer, and artist Santiago Calatrava; patron of the arts and education Kathryn C. Chenault, Esq.; and Director Emeritus of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Fiske Kimball Professor, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, Philippe de Montebello.

L to R: Santiago Calatrava gives the 2012 Pratt Institute Commencement remarks; Ai Weiwei accepts his honorary degree via a video presentationSantiago Calatrava delivered the Commencement remarks, telling students that artists must be like buildings.

As a building is resistant to forces acting upon it, a person must be equally tenacious in life,” he said. “The way is not always easy, but in order to bring a work through to completion, you will need a strong character, a broad foundation of knowledge, and an enormous force of persuasion.”

Speakers also reassured graduates about the overall economy. Schutte told graduates that, “despite the economic climate today, approximately eighty-five percent of new Pratt graduates were employed six months after graduation, and ninety-five percent of them were working in their field of study.”

Chenault said, “I take personal comfort in knowing that the young people graduating here today will be the leaders of our communities and our arts institutions tomorrow.”

Stay tuned next month for video highlights from the 2012 Commencement!

Text: Abigail Beshkin
Photos: René
Perez

Wednesday
May092012

Film/Video Professor Lisa Crafts Wins Coveted Guggenheim Fellowship 

L-R: Lisa Crafts; still from Overgrowth, the animated film Crafts will complete under the Guggenheim Fellowship

Lisa Crafts, adjunct assistant professor in the Film/Video Department, has been named a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow, one of fewer than 200 artists in the country to receive this prestigious fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in New York City. Crafts, an animator, After Effects artist, and painter, joined Pratt in 2005.

The 12-month fellowship will enable her to work on
Overgrowth, an animated film and installation work informed by current scientific and social writings about the impact of humans on the natural world.

“I’m incredibly excited about this project, and so grateful for the time to work on it that this Fellowship will provide,” said Crafts, a self-taught artist who hails from Massachusetts and moved to lower-Manhattan in the mid-1980s. She has previously received grants from The Jerome Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, and New York Foundation for the Arts, as well as a summer residency at The MacDowell Colony.

Still from The Flooded Playground, an animated film by Lisa CraftsCrafts will be the third member of Pratt's Film/Video Department to have earned the prestigious and highly competitive Guggenheim Fellowship. Jacki Ochs, adjunct associate professor, won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001 and Leighton Pierce, the chair of the department, won the fellowship in 2000.

Only 180 artists out of the 3,000 who applied won the coveted mid-career award, given to artists who demonstrate exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts. Crafts’ independent films have been shown in festivals, museums, theaters, and on television in Europe, Japan, Korea, and throughout the United States, and she has been commissioned to do animation for independent documentaries, Sesame Street, and the American Movie Classics television channel.

“Lisa’s Guggenheim Fellowship will support a new project that I expect to be as quirky, dark, and funny as her previous films,” said department chair Leighton Pierce.  “She is responsible for one of our most popular courses—Graphics and the Moving Image—a course that bridges techniques of motion graphics, animation, and live-action short film making. Lisa is a great teacher who has also balanced a successful professional film career (earning many commissions) with her own personal studio work.” 

Prior to teaching at Pratt, Crafts taught at Parsons, Boston College, and Tufts University’s Experimental College. She has given guest lectures at many schools, including Harvard University and the Rhode Island School of Design, and has served as curator of animation programs in the U.S. and Japan.

Every artist’s work involves pursuing ideas and technical skills that they must develop on their own,” said Crafts. “One important aspect of my teaching includes providing students with the tools and confidence to keep expanding their work into new realms after graduation.”

Text: Adrienne Gyongy
Images: Courtesy of Lisa Crafts

Tuesday
May082012

New Chairs Named for Creative Arts Therapy, Photography, and History of Art and Design

L to R: Julie Miller, Stephen Hilger, and Dorothea DietrichPratt Institute has appointed three new chairs to its School of Art and Design. Julie Miller, an experienced dance/movement and creative arts therapist, social worker, and educator, has been named chair of the Creative Arts Therapy Department. Dorothea Dietrich, a modernist art historian, academic, author, curator, and administrator, has been named chair of the History of Art and Design Department. Stephen Hilger, photographer, academic, curator, and administrator, has been named chair of the Photography Department. All will begin their appointments on July 1, 2012.

"Professors Miller, Dietrich, and Hilger bring a wealth of academic experience and scholarly and creative practice to their departments and to the School of Art and Design," said Pratt School of Art and Design Dean Concetta M. Stewart. "They are also each actively engaged in using their knowledge and expertise to benefit the broader community and society, and I look forward to working with them to make the Departments of Creative Arts Therapy, History of Art and Design, and Photography leading forces in our cultural and social landscape," she added.

Julie Miller has taught in the Creative Arts Therapy Department since 1996 and has served as an associate adjunct faculty member. At Pratt, Miller teaches courses on dance/movement therapy, stress management, dance/movement therapy theory and practice, and improvisation. In addition to her faculty position, she is co-director of the New York Center for the Study of Authentic Movement. She also maintains her own private practice in psychotherapy and dance/movement therapy in Brooklyn, where she provides individual psychotherapy and dance/movement therapy for adults. Miller received a duel master's degree in dance therapy and social work from Hunter College. She also received a bachelor of science degree in psychology and dance, also from Hunter College. She is a long-time Brooklyn resident.

Dorothea Dietrich currently teaches in the Smithsonian-Mason M.A. Program in the History of Decorative Arts in Washington, D.C., where she has also been an adviser for the program. She specializes in modern German art, political culture, and aesthetic theory with a focus on the Weimar Republic and the post-World War II period, especially the 1960s–1980s. Her current work focuses on art and technology in the former German Democratic Republic. Recently, Dietrich held a Senior Research Fellowship at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, England, where she studied the relationship of found and formed objects, painting, and performance in the late work of Kurt Schwitters. She is author of The Collages of Kurt Schwitters: Tradition and Innovation (Cambridge University Press, 1995) and German Drawings of the 60s (Yale University Art Gallery and Art Gallery of Ontario, 1982) and has contributed many essays to international exhibition catalogs, journals, and scholarly volumes. Dietrich received her B.A., M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University. 

Stephen Hilger has been an assistant professor and director of photography at Tulane University in New Orleans since 2008. His photographs trace historical memory in the social landscape. Working on projects that unfold over extended periods of time, Hilger constructs visual archives of the disappearing. He has exhibited widely in the United States and abroad and will participate in "Grand Hotel," a project that charts the social and architectural history of the hotel at the Vancouver Art Gallery. He also recently exhibited photographs chronicling the demise and destruction of the historic Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles at the Muse Center of Photography and the Moving Image in New York. Hilger writes about photography and contemporary art and curates exhibitions including recent solo shows by Lee Friedlander and Andy Warhol, both at Tulane. Previously, Hilger taught at Columbia University, New York University’s Steinhardt School, and Pace University, all in New York. Hilger received his B.A. and M.F.A. degrees from Columbia University and participated in the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program.   

Text: Amy Aronoff
Photos: Jonathan Weitz, Paula Burch-Celentano, and
D. A. Peterson 

Tuesday
May082012

Tribeca Film Festival Debuts Three Films by Pratt Faculty and Alumni  

Film fans await tickets at the Tribeca Film Festival; film still from Josh Koury's and Myles Kane's new feature-length documentary, Journey to Planet XThree films by Pratt faculty and alumni premiered at the 11th annual Tribeca Film Festival last month. The festival, which celebrates New York City as a major filmmaking center, drew an audience of 380,000 people during its 12-day run and hosted nearly 400 screenings and panels with entries from 46 countries.

“We've attended Tribeca since 2002, yet this is our first movie to screen in the festival,” said Ashley Sabin (B.A. History of Art ’05), who, with co-director David Redmon, debuted their new documentary Downeast. “We're honored that Tribeca accepted Downeast, Sabin added. “We think it's an exceptional festival that discovers, values, and highlights true gems. And the Tribeca audiences are energetic and engaging.”

Downeast, the first of a four-part series, follows 18 months in the life of a small lobstering village in Maine that faces tough times because of the economic crisis; it shows how the American Dream was turned upside-down for an entrepreneur and a town full of hard-working people. Sabin credits her art history studies at Pratt with helping her craft the film’s “nuanced portraits of people navigating tricky situations.”

Journey to Planet X, a film by Josh Koury, assistant professor in the Department of Film and Video, and Pratt alumnus Myles Kane (B.F.A. Film '01), director of media production at The New Yorker, follows two scientists as they embark on creating a no-budget science-fiction film. The real film, which was made with support from Pratt Faculty Development and Jerome Foundation grants in 2011, was praised by ScreenCrave movie blog as skillfully done, hilarious, and inspiring,” and received considerable outstanding critical attention, much to the delight of the filmmakers.

Koury, who has taught at Pratt since 2008, is co-founder and former programming director of the Brooklyn Underground Film Festival. “Attendance was great at all three screenings,” said Koury, “and practically everyone stayed for the Q&As. The film is doing really well, and we've already received a number of invitations to film festivals.”

Graceland, a film co-executive produced by Joshua Sobel (B.A. Critical and Visual Studies '10), tells the story of the long-time driver of a corrupt Filipino congressman, and deals with moral issues such as child sex slavery and dishonest politicians. “We had four sold-out screenings and took second place in the Heineken Audience Awards,” said Sobel a Brooklyn-based video director and independent film producer. “Critically we did really well, too, with great write-ups by national and international press outlets and a ton of press in the Philippines. People are going to trust us to make another movie now, and that's the most exciting part.”

Text: Adrienne Gyongy
Photos: Courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival, Courtesy of Brooklyn Underground Films

Monday
May072012

At Draw-a-Thon, Some of Best Pictures Emerge at 3 AM 

L-R: Drawing of people looking into the Draw-a-Thon by Tianxu (Tim) Guo (B.I.D. '12); drawing by So Hee (Lydia) Park (Industrial Design '15).
For at least six months before the Pratt Draw-a-Thon, artist-models Alan and Morgan Williams gather costumes and props for the elaborate tableau that has become a hallmark of the annual all-night drawing event.

At the Draw-a-Thon, they don the costumes and pose for eight hours (taking regular stretching breaks) so Draw-a-thon participants can sketch, draw, or paint the husband and wife modeling duo as well as the entire scene they have crafted.

A costumed pose is just one of the unique elements of the Draw-a-Thon, a drawing marathon the Foundation Department has been holding for the past 24 years. Participants spend from 7 PM on a Friday until 7 AM the following Saturday, sketching, drawing, or painting from any or all of the 18 models on hand.  Except for Alan and Morgan Williams, most of the models are nude, with some doing a series of quick poses and others holding their positions for hours at a time, giving the artists a chance to practice various techniques.

“I like the energy and the fun of it,” says Alan Williams. “I haven’t met a person yet who doesn’t have fun and it’s rare that you can do a job in which, even though it’s a long, hard night, you have fun the entire time.”

The Williamses began working at the Draw-a-Thon nine years ago. Over time, the tableaux they create have become increasingly elaborate—and humorous. Last year they staged a scene they called “Bacchus and the Off-Limits Nymph.” This year they imagined how Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa, might have looked if it had been sculpted after St. Teresa and the angel had their rendezvous. Morgan posed with a cigar in her mouth.

“The students loved it,” Williams says.

About 530 participants took part in this year’s Draw-a-Thon heldon Friday, April 13, 2012. Organizer Doug Wirls, associate professor in the Department of Foundation Art, has run the Draw-a-Thon for the last six years along with several of the department's faculty and staff. He says the event follows a similar pattern each year and this year’s was no different—but great just the same.

“The atmosphere was exactly the way we like it, which is fun and serious. Sometimes I stick my head into a studio that might have 50 or more people working in it, and it’s as quiet as a library.”

However, that quiet is punctuated at about midnight, when drummers come by to energize the drawers. There is a pizza break, paid for by the Office of Student Involvement and catered by Culinart, which also helps Wirls secure donations of drinks. At last count, Wirls says, artists consumed 800 slices of pizza and 700 cups of coffee. Utrecht contributed paper, pencils, and other supplies.

Among the regular participants is Sandra Gaddis (B.F.A. Media Arts ’04). She is a graphic designer who loves the hands-on drawing she gets to do even if it’s just for one night a year.

“When we graduated my friend and I decided we’d try to go back every year. I don’t usually draw all year, so we pack it in all in one night,” she says.

Usually, only about 150 make through the entire night, but Gaddis says it is at the oddest hours that surprising things happen.

“Sometimes at three AM is when the drawings start to look crazy. It’s fun to look back and see how you’ve progressed from seven PM to ten PM to 3 AM,” she says. “Then sometimes you get a rush of energy and do a perfect drawing at two o’clock in the morning.”

The Draw-a-Thon was started by the late Professor Al Blaustein, a longtime professor in the Department of Foundation Art. The Draw-a-Thon is also a fundraiser, with part of the $10 ($15 at the door) entrance fee going toward an emergency fund for the Foundation Department.

Wirls says the excitement of drawing all though the night gives participants a certain charge that keeps them coming back every year. “There’s a kind of shared purpose that makes it special,” says Wirls. “It's a big celebration of the human form and its place in art and design."

Text: Abigail Beshkin
Images: Courtesy of Tianxu (Tim) Guo, courtesy of So Hee (Lydia) Park