Creating Working Artists

otis dot eduOTIS College of Art and Design is one of those small gems tucked into a corner of the thriving metropolis that is Los Angeles.  I visited the Elaine & Bram Goldsmith Campus last month, and basked in its creativity and warmth.  It’s a small campus – packed with vitality and vision.

An independent school of art and design, OTIS offers BFA degrees in eleven majors – with most classes taking place in the seven-story “cube,” the striking Kathleen Ahmanson Hall.  Initially built as the headquarters for IBM Aerospace in the early 1960’s the space has been completely renovated into working studios as classroom space.  The result: spacious, collaborative and noisy (in the good way) working environments.  Each floor is dedicated to a different department.  Artwork from the different disciplines lines the walls of each floor.  If you can’t remember which floor you’re on, just look at the wall art.  Seriously!  Upperclassmen have their own desks.

freshmen drawing class - large 2About 1200 attend the school – including grad students – which provides lots of opportunity for one-on-one time with professors.  Brooke Randolph, Assistant Dean of Admissions explained that students don’t need to declare a major until sophomore year.  In fact she said, “the first year here is dedicated to foundation classes, giving students the time and chance to explore.”  A Foundation Forward course is even available to help identify the right major.

The school’s nurturing emphasis is pervasive.  The First Year Experience (FYE) program kicks into full gear even before you step on campus.  With the goal of ensuring a fun and successful transition to college life, there are upper class peer mentors to guide you, “O” orientation week, and FYE experiences that extend into your classes.

Each major has its own distinct curriculum which could lead to an insular single-minded frame of reference.  Not possible; OTIS’s goal is to create working artists, and to give you a real-world education.  So, all students are required to take part in the Creative Action program, an integrated team-building experience where you’ll rely on the varied strengths of your peers in multiple majors to resolve problems for real institutions and businesses.  Experiences have included building a sensory garden for the Junior Blind with a xylophone wall of different sounds for each room, and a trip to China to help the world’s largest wooden toy company move to more sustainable materials.

Clearly, this is not a typical college in a number of ways.  Physically it occupies a large block in the hubbub of the city, near to beaches, the airport, and affluent west side communities.  Housing is provided for all first year students (freshmen or transfers) in a luxury apartment building a short 10-minute walk from campus. (Nice!)  A website offers resources for upper classmen to locate nearby apartments.  Parking is free and available for all students.

I have to say, my only frustration with OTIS was in trying to find information on their website.  But according to Brooke a new site is coming soon.

Want to learn more about the creative environment of Los Angeles and how it pertains to OTIS graduates?  Read OTIS’ 2012 Report on the Creative Economy.

Postscript: I won’t be blogging next week, but watch for a post I’m researching about the business aspects of being an artist.  Also, if there are any other specific topics you’d like to read about please let me know.

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