Honorary Degree Recipients and Speakers Announced for Commencement on May 15
On Friday, May 15, Pratt Institute degree candidates will gather in their caps and gowns at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in the heart of Manhattan, where two separate graduation ceremonies will be held during Pratt Institute’s 126th Commencement. The Institute will celebrate the achievements of 1,255 graduating students and confer their degrees in the main auditorium at the graduate ceremony, which will be held at 10 AM, and the undergraduate ceremony, which will begin at 2 PM.
Boundary-pushing artists Shepard Fairey; Pratt alumna Alison Knowles (B.F.A. Illustration ’56); and James Turrell; and art influencers Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music; and Holland Cotter, co-chief art critic and a senior writer at The New York Times; will receive honorary degrees at the ceremonies. Hopkins will be the keynote speaker at the graduate ceremony, during which she will be honored. Cotter will be the keynote speaker at the undergraduate ceremony, where he, Fairey, Knowles, and Turrell will receive honorary degrees.
Karen Brooks Hopkins’ honorary degree will be conferred in recognition of her 36-year tenure with the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), including the last 16 years as president. During her time as head of BAM, she has spearheaded and overseen the organization’s growth into an international arts institution, campus expansion, increase in endowment, and influence in the Brooklyn arts renaissance.
Holland Cotter’s honorary degree will be conferred in recognition of his many achievements in art criticism. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2009, and given the Lifetime Achievement Award for Art Writing by the College Art Association the following year. In 2012, he was a Poynter Fellow in Journalism at Yale University, and the recipient of the Religion and the Arts Award from the American Academy of Religion. In April 2013, he was the Alain LeRoy Locke lecturer at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Last year, he received the inaugural Award for Excellence in Criticism from the International Association of Art Critics, U.S.A. section.
Shepard Fairey’s honorary degree will be conferred in recognition of his achievements in changing the way people see art and the urban landscape. While studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, he created the “Andre the Giant has a Posse” sticker that transformed into the OBEY GIANT art campaign, which helped launch his career. His work has evolved into an acclaimed body of art, including the 2008 "Hope" portrait of Barack Obama, which can be found in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. In addition to his guerrilla street art presence, Fairey has executed more than 43 large-scale painted public murals around the world. His works are in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); the Victoria and Albert Museum; the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and many others.
Alison Knowles’s honorary degree will be conferred in recognition of her pioneering career as a downtown New York artist in the 1950s and ’60s. She was an integral part of the downtown New York artist community that would become SoHo. By 1962, a group of friendships coalesced as Fluxus, whose founding tour brought the Event type of instructional performance to Europe, and later to Asia and the United States. She has earned a number of recognitions throughout her career, including winning a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968 and being invited to appear at The White House in An Evening of Poetry in 2011.
James Turrell’s honorary degree will be conferred in recognition of his innovative works that play with perception and the effect of light within a created space. The internationally acclaimed artist began his career in California as one of the leaders of a new group of artists working with light and space, and he has been creating striking pieces for more than four decades. Over the past two decades, his work has been recognized in exhibitions in major museums around the world, including the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Panza di Biumo Collection, Varese, Italy.
Image (L-R): Karen Brooks Hopkins (photo: Buck Ennis); Holland Cotter (photo: Damon Winters, New York Times); Shepard Fairey (photo: J. Furlong); James Turrell (photo: Florian Holzherr); Alison Knowles (photo: Clara Joy)