MACARTHUR PARK : Otis College at 75: Designs on the Future

The Otis College of Art and Design, the city’s oldest art school, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this fall with a series of events and exhibitions commemorating its history and looking ahead to the future.

The school opened in 1918 as the Otis Art Institute. In 1978, it merged with the Parson School of Design and now offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, applied arts, fashion, architecture and design.

Notable graduates of the school include Wilfred Jackson, one of Walt Disney’s original animators; costume designer Edith Head; architect Frederick Monhoff, Los Angeles County’s principal architect for many years, and George Maitland Stanley, who created the Oscar statuette awarded for motion picture achievements.

Neil Hoffman, who became president of the school in July, said that although the technological tools of art and design have changed, the school’s basic mission of “helping students learn to see, draw and execute ideas” remains the same.


“We need to teach art in a way that expands our students’ potential to understand other cultural perspectives,” Hoffman said. “To see though others’ eyes is to see more clearly the artist’s place in the world, rather than the fads or fashions of the marketplace.”

About 700 full-time students, many from Southern California and others from more than 35 countries, attend classes at the campus across from MacArthur Park.

The deterioration of the park and the surrounding area has left some students with ambivalent feelings about the school. Elizabeth Whitefield, a senior majoring in fashion, said most students feel “really positive about the new administration” and the content of their education, but are still concerned about safety around the campus.

“It’s very scary sometimes because of the violence and crime,” she said. As is the case at many urban campuses, new students are given a quick course on “street smarts” to help them safely navigate their way to and from campus.

Dann Grindeman, dean of students, said that although the school is dealing with a space crunch and problems of crime in the area, Otis “places a high priority on community service and outreach.”

Hoffman said that many of the school’s students, including a newly formed group of Latino students, are becoming more active in campus and community issues. Despite heavy academic and work schedules, some students find the time to work with children in public schools or in after-school programs, he said.

“We can play a role in this community by doing things that are right in a quiet way,” Hoffman said.

Information on upcoming events and exhibitions: (310) 577-7680.