New School News

Alumni Celebrate ‘Consciously Created’ Designs at Parsons Reunion 2017

When Raquel de Anda was organizing the People’s Climate March, in 2014, she hoped to shift the conversation around climate change from “one of polar bears and melting glaciers to one of frontline communities witnessing the effects of climate change firsthand.”

It was a way, de Anda said, to “show people how climate is connected to their work.”

To that end, the Parsons School of Design alum and her fellow march organizers decided to “tell a giant story” that would communicate the lived experiences of individuals affected by climate change.

On the day of the People’s Climate March, 400,000 people, including hundreds of New School students and faculty, took to the streets of New York City. Marchers carried signs and banners that highlighted their affiliation with specific groups — immigrant rights organizations, environmental nonprofits, Hurricane Sandy–affected communities, and more — dealing directly with issues connected to climate change.

“This strategy not only gave people a place to sit in this larger movement but also gave the media the opportunity to tell these personal stories on a larger level,” de Anda said. “What we appreciated about this moment was the piecing together of all these different narratives to create a much larger intersectional story about the climate justice movement.”

De Anda, MS Design and Urban Ecologies ’15, shared her story during a panel discussion on socially conscious design at #ParsonsReunion, the leading art and design school’s annual celebration of its graduates and their accomplishments. Alumni spent the day networking, sharing their success stories, and engaging in a series of events that reconnected them with their alma mater and its community of collaborative, forward-thinking creatives. The day culminated in the opening reception of this year’s Parsons alumni exhibition, (under)REPRESENT(ed), which features Parsons alumni of color whose creative practices explore the lived experience of race and are aimed at dismantling systems of racism.

During an evening panel, Consciously Created: Parsons Alumni Design for Social Impact, alumni from across Parsons’ programs discussed their socially engaged work in a variety of political and cultural spheres. In addition to de Anda, Parsons alumni heard from David Carroll, MFA Design and Technology ’00, a Parsons faculty member and data design expert whose recent work focuses on the use of data in political campaigning; Grace Jun, MFA Design and Technology ’16, executive director of Open Style Lab, an initiative dedicated to designing garments for people of all abilities; and Amanat Anand and Shubham Issar, BFA Product Design ’15, co-founders of SoaPen, a wearable and portable “soap crayon” that promotes healthy hand-washing habits.

“You are all committed to making sure the work at Parsons is forward-looking and addressing the most complex problems facing society today,” said Parsons Executive Dean Joel Towers. “That dynamic — the constant interest in finding what’s new and focusing on it fearlessly and  joyfully — is what characterizes this place.”

Following the panel discussion, attendees headed across the street to the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center for the opening reception of (under)REPRESENT(ed). Initiated and organized by a collective of alumni of color, the exhibition features artists and designers working in a range of disciplines “who address and resist the systemic exclusion that prevails in educational and professional institutions and practices,” the curators said.

“We are moved by an urgency to foreground the power generated by creative practices,” the curators added. “Our own experience as students, practicing artists, designers, educators, and cultural organizers tells us that this work isn’t always given its due criticism or celebration.”

Among the artists featured is Alston Green, CGRD Illustration ’72, who played a lead role in the development of Hallmark’s popular Mahogany line of greeting cards.

“I’m really excited and humbled to be featured in this exhibition,” said Green, who was a member of the this year’s Parsons Reunion committee. “I think a lot of people didn’t know what I did, but they know my work. This exhibition offers an opportunity to create that awareness, to observe the breadth of the contributions of artists of color.”

The day kicked off with a celebration of alumnus Willi Smith, featuring the first screening in 30 years of the short film Expedition, made by Smith and Max Vadukul. It was followed by a Q&A with producer Mark Bozek, model and activist Bethann Hardison, Paper magazine editor Kim Hastreiter, and fashion historian Kim Jenkins, MA Fashion Studies ’13, who served as moderator.

Kay Unger, Fashion Design ’68, who attended the screening and knew Smith during their time at Parsons, praised his contributions to the art and design fields.

“Although it has been 50 years since Willie Smith and I went to Parsons together, I can still vividly recall Willie’s laugh, his big glasses and his colorful lively clothes,” says Unger, chair of the Parsons Board of Governors and a New School trustee. “Willie was so ahead of his time as a designer. His approach to women of all ages and his ability to create comfortable sportswear directly influenced the clothing we wear today.”

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