Work by Foundation student Elizabeth Vasquez completed in the spring Space, Form, Process class led by Visiting Instructor Matthew Northridge. Students were asked to recreate an image with available objects. 

In rethinking a pivotal first-year experience for many incoming students, Pratt Institute’s Foundation department is emphasizing community and experimentation in their introduction to the fundamentals of art and design. This fall semester will be unlike any other as Foundation is entirely virtual and is shifting from a traditional classroom focus to more one-on-one and small group interactions. With a balance of open conversation and independent studio work, Foundation Remote is building student connections that will endure throughout their entire time at Pratt as well as fostering an understanding of core concepts that will guide their future practices. 

“Foundation can be a stressful, complex, and confusing time in a good year, so we designed first-year learning communities taught by faculty teams to stretch the limits of our courses to provide a truly interdisciplinary and collaborative experience,” said Leslie Mutchler, chair of Foundation. 

Foundation prepares students in the School of Art and School of Design for their whole education at Pratt by equipping them with a mastery of the fundamentals underlying their fields. While they might have majors ranging from painting to interior design, their Foundation year is concentrated on gaining fluency in visual principles and collaborating with students in diverse disciplines. For Foundation Remote, students are grouped into cohorts of 12 to 15 students. They will all take classes together, led by three faculty members, allowing for individualized attention and increased exchange across courses for a lively, interdisciplinary experience.

“My students and I are finding new ways to create, learn, and build our studio community together,” said Corinne Ulmann, associate professor of Foundation. “Our learning communities and faculty teams have sparked new conversations and collaborations. We are able to bridge concepts from a project in one course to our own—and then to another or back again—and this builds lateral connections to create a richer learning experience for our students.”

Although students are learning apart, they are all starting the semester with the same Pratt Foundation Starter Kit containing all the basic tools and materials needed in their first-year classes. Through generous funding from Trustee Emeritus Bruce Newman, BFA Interior Design ’53, and support from Blick, the Foundation Starter Kits are completely free to all Foundation students.

“As we artists have learned, there’s a lot of invention in regards to materials when making during COVID-19,” Mutchler said. “While students are lucky to have access to the same basic tools and materials shipped to their remote locations, they’ll also have to get resourceful with what they have on hand, from creating pigments out of natural ingredients found in the kitchen to sourcing used chipboard, cardboard, and other recyclable materials to build with three-dimensionally.”

Work by Foundation student Yian Chen completed in the spring Space, Form, Process class led by Visiting Instructor Matthew Northridge, recreating a scene in Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Foundation revolves around an immersive six-hour studio class in which students develop their skills and interests and learn to sustain them over time. In Foundation Remote, class time will be broken up into a mix of synchronous and asynchronous sessions where students will be online for a couple of hours at most for faculty to introduce new concepts, hold critiques, offer one-on-one conversations, or have the students work on group projects. Then students will have time for self-directed studio work. As in years past, some of their assignments will be structured and some will be open-ended, allowing room for mistakes, experiments, and discoveries. 

Juan Jofre Lora, assistant professor of Foundation, explained that the reconfiguration of the curriculum has led faculty and students to innovate together with tools and techniques. “I’ve seen a big push towards utilizing digital tools and 3D modeling to get at some concepts, but also some wonderfully inventive and simple analog exercises,” he said. “Faculty are finding new tools that they hadn’t considered before while also bringing different aspects of their course to the foreground. That can mean richer discussions with our students and more play and exploration in our exercises.”


Stills of animations created by students Amélie Stoddard and Mia Wong for a Breathe / Time and Movement assignment designed by Deborah Johnson, adjunct associate professor with CCE of Foundation. The students used After Effects to build simple forms up and down based on the rhythm of breathing in and out. 

Learning to articulate ideas and analyze their own and each other’s work has always been essential to Foundation and it will be even more crucial as students discuss their projects remotely. Much of the course content will be available in advance, giving more time to these dialogues when students and faculty come together in a virtual space. The approach makes distance learning more flexible to students who may be in different time zones or have different schedules for their at-home studies in their varying work environments. 

As faculty members may now be teaching out of their own studios, there are also new opportunities to share how to think and learn as artists and designers in a self-designed space. “One of the lessons I return to over and over again is how to recover when things go awry,” said James Lipovac, adjunct professor with CCE of Foundation. “Being a professional means finding a way to work through and learn from mistakes—not that you no longer make them. A big part of this lesson is designing a workspace that allows for success to happen. Now I will help them create an effective workspace within their home, an important part of thinking and learning.”

All of these adjustments contribute to a more blended Foundation year in its coursework and collaboration. As the students work virtually, some far from the Pratt campus, there will be opportunities to interact with the local Brooklyn community through their work. Foundation Expanded, organized in collaboration with the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership (MARP), will create a series of public works on Myrtle Avenue just outside of Pratt’s Brooklyn campus. Students will be involved in civic engagement through these site-specific projects aimed at a broad audience. 

Concept art for “Mulch Mural” by students Avery Balcazar, Haesung Hwang, Jennifer Kim, Rose Moon, & Sarah Schneider

One Foundation Expanded project debuting in the 2020-21 year is “Mulch Mural” created by a student team including Avery Balcazar, Haesung Hwang, Jennifer Kim, Rose Moon, and Sarah Schneider. Using various colors of mulch they will form the image of a welcome mat which will slowly disintegrate as it is visited and walked over. Also slated to be installed is the eye-adorned “Watching” graphic pattern designed by student Jack Ketteler which will replace student Elodia Wei’s “Wonderland” that debuted in the summer of 2019 on a group of utility boxes. 

Concept art for “Watching” by student Jack Ketteler

Foundation has never been limited to the studio or classroom and now faculty and students are drawing on that strength to meet the challenge of virtual learning. Throughout the school year, @PrattFoundation will be sharing student work to offer another platform for community and inspiration. In both the short term of this important year and the long term of their professional practices, these skills of forming relationships, adapting to change, and being collaborative in their work will be invaluable for a lifetime of creative thinking.