Students, teachers and design professionals alike are abuzz with the news of the new Baltimore Design School, which opens this Fall.
The Baltimore Design School will be a combined middle and high transformation school in the city. The term transformation school means the school will live up to the standards required of all schools in Baltimore City Public Schools system. However, the school is permitted to hire its own principal and staff.
Fashion, architecture, and graphic design are the primary focuses of the school’s curriculum. Students in the school will receive a “rigorous, collaborative, interdisciplinary” education, said Kate Morrill, the school’s educational associate. The school will offer training in art and design in addition to all standard coursework required by Maryland state education standards.
The school was the brainchild of Maryland state senator and current Baltimore mayoral candidate Catherine Pugh. According to Karen Carroll, the chair of the education committee at the school, the design school came about because Senator Catherine Pugh had been talking to President Fred Lazarus of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, “for years about wanting to do this and so finally they stopped talking and did something about it.”
Founders of the school originally considered Design Architecture Senior High (DASH) located in Miami, Florida, as a model for the new design school. They worked with DASH’s current principal, Stacey Mancuso, in order to create a proposal to take before the Baltimore City School Board. Pugh originally planned to call the school FAD, for Fashion, Architecture, and Design. She understood the importance of design and the desire to see fashion design in Baltimore. From there Pugh and Lazarus worked together to make the school into a reality. As word spread in Baltimore, the school began to build its board of directors.
The board of the design school “consists of some of the very best design firms in the city,” said Carroll. Underarmour, Ziger Snead, and Ashton Design are just some of the firms represented on the board, which also includes Leslie Sheppard, the former director of the Baltimore School for the Arts, and Annet Couwenberg, former chair of the Fibers Department at MICA. The board has been instrumental in developing the proposal for the new school, as well as acquiring a new building to house its students and teachers.
The school will be housed in the former Lebow Clothing Factory, an abandoned building in Baltimore’s Station North Arts District, which was formerly home to the Lebow Bros. Clothing Company. In 1985, the company closed down, leaving the building, and many great artifacts behind, including dozens of racks of clothing and equipment after employees walked out. The building, according to a report from Seawall Development “has remained idle and unoccupied for a quarter century, falling into greater and greater disrepair as required maintenance was not performed and squatters occupied the facility.” Ziger Snead and Seawall Development plan to restore the building and have it up and running for the school in two to three years.
For now, students will be housed at Winston Middle School at 1101 Winston Avenue in Baltimore. Preparations are under way for the new school year and the board of directors has planned a “transformation day” for the school in which volunteers from design firms will “add artful design elements to the school to help it feel more like a space for young artists,” said Morrill.
What can students expect? They will have a new principal, Joseph Freed, who was formerly the principal at Carver School for Arts and Technology. Faculty members have been hand-selected by the board of directors. “We have an amazing, dedicated, energetic faculty of accomplished teachers that are invested in BDS,” said Morrill. The school will have nine educators on staff to open its first year including two art teachers and a single instructor for each additional academic subject area.
Currently, the school is only open to 6th and 7th graders. Thus, the first class will be small – consisting of four sections of 6th graders and two of 7th. The total student population will include about 150 students. In Fall, 2012, the school hopes to be open to 6ththrough 9th grade students, which opens the opportunity for its first class of high school students.
“The Baltimore Design School will be an important step in bringing fresh, innovative energy to the area,” said Morrill. “We really see BDS as a starting point for a growing design community in Baltimore. With involvement from local colleges, universities, and design and architecture firms, there is significant potential for community connections to be made in the field of design and education.”
The location of the school will offer students a great deal of opportunities. Carroll welcomes the opportunity to have students working in close contact with local design firms. “There’s a lot of validation of the career choice that the kids see because this is obviously a viable business that all of these people are in, so I think it’s very exciting for the kids and affirming. Likewise, it brings the community together in a way that maximizes. It’s close to MICA and of course, too, with all the board members,” who “have a lot of connections” throughout the city and with local design agencies.
In addition to their close proximity to respected designers, senior year students will be given opportunities to complete credit-based internships with Baltimore design firms.
Art educators in Baltimore are watching the school closely, as the push for design in education becomes increasingly apparent. “It’s a hot new topic in art education,” said Carroll. “Design has kind of been a sleeper in art education because we’ve emphasized more of the fine arts over the years. There’s been a very loud cry, recently, for more attention to be given to design.”
Carroll has high hopes for what this school will mean to students in the Center for Art Education at MICA. “We’re hoping as a center that trains teachers that we would really be very actively involved in a dialogue about what teaching design well these days means.”
This fall, MICA’s Young People’s Studios program will be providing several design classes to help prepare students for their application to the Baltimore Design School. These courses include: Introduction to Fashion Design, a Graphic Design Workshop, and Perceptual Skills in Drawing. For more information about the classes, please click here.