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Art and Design

At the 59th street stop on the Number 4 subway, the doors of the train open and release a stream of teens plugged into their ipods, talking and texting on their phones, laughing and joking with each other.  They walk a few blocks south and east to an obscure building between 56th and 57th streets which houses their high school. These kids, residents of one of the greatest cities in the world, are students at one of the most prestigious public schools in New York City- the acclaimed High School of Art and Design.  

The school is one of New York City’s highly competitive magnets, attracting over a thousand visual arts applicants each year and accepting only three hundred and fifty. Operating since the 1940’s, the school has spawned famous alumni such as singer Tony Bennett, fashion designers Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs, animator Ralph Bashki and more. I had the opportunity to visit this esteemed institution before they closed for the summer and was duly impressed with the dedicated staff and talented students.  

The mission statement of Art and Design states an objective to “inspire and educate all populations of learners who are artistically gifted to become creative problem solvers and future learners in the world of visual arts.”  Walking through the spacious halls decorated with student work it is evident that the school is successful in its mission.  Student skill and creativity are demonstrated in the fashion illustrations, architectural designs, posters, cartoons and films created in the classes.  The staff is lively, engaging, enthusiastic and extremely dedicated to their craft.  Each arts instructor is also a practicing artist.  Some of the instructors have been hired directly from industry thus providing a state of the art education for students regarding their discipline.  The graphic arts and film instructors in particular are two teachers that I had an opportunity to spend some time with.  Both are industry hires and both provide a comprehensive curriculum that includes resources and technology currently used in industry today such as Final Cut Pro- a software program used in the film classes that is also used in professional filmmaking.  Posters created by the graphic arts students for stage productions boasted a quality equal to any professional design studio in the business.

The school is part of New York’s current trend of CTE programs- Career Technical Education- a move to provide what used to be called vocational/ technical training in the schools.  Vocational education was all but eliminated in the 1980’s in many school districts around the country.  New York has recognized the need and importance of resurrecting skill based training but with a twenty first century approach by incorporating technology and requiring that the course curricula meet industry standards.  Schools that include CTE programs are alotted additional resources and funding to initialize and run programs that allow the students to develop career ready skills.  Additionally, the school is partnered with prestigious industry giants such as Louis Vuitton, Martha Stewart Living, David Yurman, Roundabout Theatres and schools and museums like Parsons School of Design,  the Fashion Institute of Technology, Cooper Union, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and more.  These partnerships provide not only resources but potential internships for students as well.  

The school attracts students focused and dedicated to the study of visual arts, and accomodates ESL and Special Education populations inclusively.  Students must apply for enrollment and the application process includes a live art test with an optional portfolio review. Ninth graders must declare a “major” by the end of their first year. Educational programs of study include Architecture, Cartooning and Animation, Graphic Design, Digital Photo, Digital Video and Film Production, and Fashion and Costume Design.  A nine period day allows for forty six minute classes which include academic courses in addition to the arts. Students wishing to take the New York Arts Regent exam may do so in the spring of their junior year.  

As an arts instructor it was easy to envy the creative and inspiring environment of Art and Design. The staff is proud of their kids and the direction that the school is moving in. There is an obvious dedication to learning and teaching at this remarkable school.  An impressive ten art shows each year indicates the level of pride in the students, staff and alumni.  In September of 2012 Art and Design will be moving into its new digs located at 250 East 57th street.  A state of the art structure for the artists, designers, film makers and photographers of tomorrow. A place to continue the seventy year tradition of inspiring, cultivating and realizing creative dreams.

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