Representatives from 33 independent colleges of art and design convened in New York City to attend the Pratt Academic Leadership Summit on Sustainability (PALSS) from September 29 through October 2, 2010. The event helped colleges to work collectively to build a strategic plan for integrating environmental sustainability education into art and design programs that will be presented to the leadership at their home institutions. PALSS participants are already planning out much of the next year and are working to develop five actionable items for advancement for 2010-2011. It was hosted by Pratt Institute and held at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and on Pratt’s Brooklyn and Manhattan Campuses.

“The summit could not have been more of a success. We met our goal to galvanize the group and establish an action plan for moving forward over the next year,” said Debera Johnson, director of PALSS, who leads Pratt’s Center for Sustainable Design Studies as director of academic sustainability. “Together we have the critical mass that will help us make transformative rather than incremental change,” she added.

There were five main themes to emerge from the four-day summit – the need to demonstrate and communicate the critical role of art and design education in re-envisioning a sustainable future; the need to anticipate opportunities rather than react to challenges; the need for better communication about accomplishments in social and environmental education; the need to refocus “sustainability” to include both environmental and social justice; and the need to build a sustainability ‘marketplace’ to connect and share resources across institutions.

In discussing these themes, summit fellows found that independent colleges of art and design are in a unique leadership position to shape the future of design education and leverage resources to make real change quickly. They also discussed what actions might be taken in the future when the next generation of artists, designers, and thought leaders will be making decisions that will directly impact our world.

The purpose of the summit was to begin to equip the PALSS fellows with the tools and strategies they need to integrate sustainability into their programs and set the stage for art and design education for the class of 2030. Following the summit, fellows became members of the PALSS Cohort-an ongoing network that will meet monthly via Web conference to continue the dialogue regarding the sustainability of art and design education at independent colleges of art and design. In June 2011, the cohort will publish a report that will incorporate standards as well as broader issues related to the sustainability of higher education. A key outcome of the publication will be to serve as a model for collaboration that can be replicated by other academic institutions and organizations that would benefit from collaboration across traditional institutional boundaries.

The summit was partially supported by a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant from the U.S. Department of Education and the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) and Pratt Institute.