Pratt photography students participating in the Made in NYC Learning Lab (courtesy Made in NYC)
Pratt photography students participating in the Made in NYC Learning Lab (courtesy Made in NYC)

Since 2016, the Made in NYC Learning Lab has matched the creative expertise of Pratt Institute with the needs of local businesses. The program recruits Pratt faculty, staff, and students to develop essential learning opportunities for and provide creative services to business owners seeking guidance on smart and impactful marketing and branding strategies. An initiative of the Pratt Center for Community Development, Made in NYC connects innovative manufacturers—who produce everything from bicycles to NASA space gloves—to marketing and branding resources that help them articulate the unique value of their products and position the compelling backstories of business owners and entrepreneurs.

Pratt’s Photography Department has been one of the Learning Lab’s successes. Since the program’s inception, Adjunct Associate Professor of Photography Stephanie Powell and her students have collaborated with a cross-section of Made in NYC companies to stage Pop-up Photography Studios in manufacturing hubs across the city, from Sunset Park to the South Bronx. On a typical day, students work with up to 18 businesses to photograph products and take professional headshots of business owners. Students then edit and process the images for companies so they are ready for e-commerce or social media. For Powell, the experience “has been incredible for me and my students, not only in offering support to our local businesses but witnessing the organic sense of community that happens when you connect on a creative level.”

Student fellows are engaged in client-facing roles that challenge them to adapt their creative intentions to the needs of the clients and problem-solve on the go. “We learned everything from how to initiate communication with a client and how to work on our toes, to proper client-facing behavior and how to approach communicating concerns we might have along the run of the shoot,” said Ari Barnett, BFA Photography ‘18 and a 2017-18 Made in NYC Learning Lab Student Fellow. Barnett added that the Fellowship “was single-handedly the most critical step in allowing me to develop into a successful freelancer. It gave me the experience necessary to execute freelance jobs skillfully and efficiently and the confidence to be respected as a young photographer.”

In the 2018-19 school year, Powell and four photography students served a total of 62 businesses in diverse sectors of New York City’s dynamic local economy that included fashion, home and interiors, food and beverage, print and media, and machinery and metals.

The Made in NYC Learning Lab is one of many free resources offered to local manufacturers. To date, it has delivered workshops and creative services to over 300 businesses and worked with 12 faculty and staff and 65 students in the departments of Photography, Design Management, Communications Design, Fashion, Architecture, and the School for Continuing and Professional Studies. Beyond photography, faculty and students have led workshops in digital marketing strategy, workplace mindfulness, new product innovation, and more.

The Call for Ideas for the 2020-21 academic year is now open through May 8 to all Pratt faculty and staff who want to channel their creative ideas and expertise into helping local businesses grow and thrive. Selected submissions will be invited to develop a full project proposal. The Made in NYC Learning Lab provides stipends of up to $12,000 to Pratt faculty, staff, and students to teach workshops or provide creative services to Made in NYC companies. More information about the Learning Lab and how to apply is available online.