Otis College of Art and Design students expand their studio to improve Los Angeles
Elementary school students, ex-gang members and disaster relief workers, in and around Los Angeles, are taking a hand in improving their worlds this Spring, with the help of Otis College of Art and Design’s Integrated Learning program and Design Ignites Change.
Otis College’s Integrated Learning program involves a Parallel Studio model, in which students get a chance to go out into the community to collaborate with those most affected by the problems they’re working to solve. Last year, students worked side-by-side with the city’s bilingual Accelerated Charter Elementary School’s (ACES) 5th graders to revamp their playground. Faced with a cinder block-strewn parking lot that doubles as a play area, they started by brightening the space with a mural featuring ACES students, then moved on to create a portable seating system in metal mesh that opens to safely store toys.
This year, the trans-disciplinary team has been strategizing ways to green the ACES campus with a few thoughtful additions. Together, the students have drawn up plans for a site-specific trellis that’s not only beautiful, but also functional in its ability to regulate the school’s temperature and purify its air. This summer, they will also be building raised beds and setting up a greywater system for a native gardening project that will take place at ACES this Fall.
Another one of the college’s Integrated Learning partners is Homeboy Industries, a non-profit organization that helps former gang members transition to the workforce, by offering services from GED preparation to tattoo removal. A complex organization onto itself, Homeboy Industries also comprises a handful of businesses run by program participants, who go by homeboys and homegirls. Last semester, Otis students worked with the homeboys and homegirls to design t-shirts and other items that can be sold to sustain the innovative program.
In Collaborating with Catastrophe, the students teamed up with the City of El Segundo which, due to its close proximity to LAX, has a special division of the fire department devoted to dealing with disaster. In one exercise, the students developed an extensive stencil system for labeling dangerous environments. In another, they redesigned the disaster workers’ vests to neatly fit their many supplies, making it easier for the responders to move efficiently in the event of an emergency.
“Our Parallel Studio Model is really unique in a way. There’s extreme value in it for us and our partners,” explains Rich Shelton who oversees Integrated Learning at Otis, “because no one understands the problem better than those affected.” The school’s hands-on model embraces team building, researching and addressing the needs of community partners, as well as implementing real-world solutions, was a natural fit for Design Ignites Change, a larger movement of educational design endeavors that positively impact the communities in which we live.