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The Fall of a School

By FashionUnited

May 15, 2015


New York - It was announced last week that fifteen Art Institutes scattered across the country would close, the largest of which would be the Art Institute of New York City. This is one of the schools in which I teach. It is also where I began my teaching career and it is the school in which I have taught the longest.

A teach-out will begin which will allow all enrolled students to complete their course of study and graduate, guaranteeing them the same high level of instruction and access to resources as always. The teach-out is scheduled for completion in Summer 2017.

The Art Institutes are operated by the company Education Management Corporation. This downsizing of their Art Institutes’ portfolio calls attention to a broader trend in this country of the closing of for-profit schools, a sector that never really recovered after the recession and which has been the subject of much government scrutiny, with reports of law suits, unrealistic tuition fees, decreasing enrollment and massive debt restructuring. DeVry University announced the closing of 14 of its campuses in April. Corinthian Colleges Inc filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.

The looming axe of closure has always hung over the Art Institute of New York City’s head, at least for the four years I have been there. Nevertheless, day to day life at our school went on as normal. Talent was nourished at a high rate. A yearly fashion show on the official schedule of New York Fashion Week gained widespread recognition. Portfolios materialized as if by fairy dust every quarter. Students benefitted from the same level of tuition as their competitors at the city’s other highly regarded schools of FIT, Parsons, Kent State NYC, Pratt and LIM, because many of their instructors also taught in these institutions. Some instructors continued to work in the industry thereby instilling in students a first hand awareness of industry standards.

The Art Institute accepted students to the fashion course without a portfolio.

But there is one significant difference between AINYC and the city’s other design schools. This was the most challenging although also often most rewarding aspect of the school, for faculty and students alike. The Art Institute accepted students to the fashion course without a portfolio. These are students who would probably never get accepted to Parsons or FIT; many have never picked up a pencil, never mind sewn a stitch; the majority are the first of their family to enter further education; a large percentage are minorities not visible in the classrooms of the other city’s schools. Sometimes it was more of a design boot camp than school.

Where will they go now if they have a secret burning desire to pursue a career in fashion but not the first clue how to make that dream a reality? Everyone I’ve spoken to considers this the greatest sadness.

For the morale of the remaining student population, we the faculty must make like the string quartet on the Titanic after it struck the iceberg and keep playing a lively tune. I for one am used to it. I’ve been doing it for four years.

But like the violinist, I turn to my fellow faculty, instructors of the highest calibre, to the inimitable department chair, and the determinedly dedicated duo of dean and president, and say, “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight.”

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.