CalArts Design School Archive Finds New Digital Home

The School of Art at CalArts serves as an umbrella for programs in Fine Art, Photography and Media, Art and Technology and Graphic Design. However, few may realize that the Design program originally operated as its own school for six years.

Last semester, students in Louise Sandhaus’ class “Public Projects: Design School Archive” collaborated with CalArts archivist Kathy Carbone, digitizing works created by former School of Design students from 1970-76. These will be preserved in the library’s Special Collections on a web platform that houses rare photos, videos, graphic design pieces and miscellaneous school ephemera such as letters from former faculty members, course catalogs and semester schedules.

According to the archive’s website, the Design School’s mission was to “train students in the management of the future and in the initiation of positive changes as they applied to shelters, settlements, regions, tools, systems, artifacts, visual communications, the environment and products, with an emphasis on an ecological approach to design.” Incorporating traditional communication design classes with training in human factors engineering, economics and distribution strategies, the aim was “to form the faculty and students into task forces bent on solving concrete problems in natural and social environments.”

The program was divided into subsets of Photography, Graphic Design, Product Design, and Environmental Design. In addition to courses familiar to today’s design students such as Image Making, Typography and Design Theory, coursework would have included options like Design of Solar Energy Devices, Physical Structures and Systems Theory.

The now storied Women’s Design Program, a year-long initiative led by program founder Sheila de Bretteville in 1971, was also included in Design School curriculum. It aim was “the development of a design subject matter appropriate to, and in keeping with, feminist identity.”

The CalArts Design School archives project was compiled by Nicole Busson (Theater MFA 17), Bradley Krebs (Art BFA 18), Christina Niazian (Art BFA 17), Kristin Schultz (Art BFA 18), Teddy Erasmos, Alyson Yee (Art BFA 18) and Monique Wilmoth (Art BFA 17) with Carbone.

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  1. Zabelle Zakarian // //

    As one of the 23 graduates of the Cal Arts School of Humanities, I took courses in the School of Design with John Melzian and Richard Coss that continue to resonate with me. Along the way, I acquired a collection of posters that were freely displayed in the halls of Cal Arts. In addition, I collected the poster / flyer announcing the Cal Arts School of Humanities that was attributed to Desmond S. Guy. I shipped this poster to Susan Wellington, Interim Dean and Librarian, in February 2020. This poster is not included in your School of Design archival website, but it should be. I also have three other posters of music, theater and art events that were produced by Cal Arts faculty or students during 1972-73. I would consider returning these to Cal Arts at some time in the future if I knew they were not going to lost and forgotten, like the Cal Arts School of Humanities.