Parsons School of Design, known colloquially as Parsons, is a private art and design college located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan in New York City. It is one of the five colleges of The New School. The school is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious art and design schools in the world and ranks consistently as the top art and design school in the United States.
The school was founded in 1896 by William Merritt Chase in search of individualistic artistic expression. It was the first of its kind in the country to offer programs in fashion design, advertising, interior design, and graphic design. The school offers numerous undergraduate and graduate programs, ranging from architectural design, curatorial studies, to textiles and design and urban ecologies.
In addition, Parsons is known for its alumni, which consist of numerous famous fashion designers, photographers, designers, illustrators, and artists alike that have made large contributions to their respective industries. The college is also a member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design.
The renowned American Impressionist William Merritt Chase founded the school in 1896. It was a rebellious gesture: Chase led a small group of Progressives who seceded from the Art Students League of New York in search of more individualistic expression. The Chase School would educate future luminaries of early American modernism, including Marsden Hartley and Edward Hopper.
In 1904, arts educator Frank Alvah Parsons joined the school. Six years later, he became its sole director. Predicting art and design’s inevitable link to industry, Parsons launched a series of groundbreaking programs, the first of their kind in the United States:
*Fashion design, 1904 (originally costume design)
*Interior design, 1904 (originally interior decoration)
*Advertising and graphic design (originally commercial illustration)
“Art is not for the few, for the talented, for the genius, for the rich, nor the church,” Parsons said in 1920. “Industry is the nation’s life, art is the quality of beauty in expression, and industrial art is the cornerstone of our national art.”
By pursuing beauty in ordinary things, Frank Alvah Parsons virtually invented the modern concept of design. His faculty cared about the spaces ordinary people lived in, the garments they wore, the advertising they read, the furniture and tableware they used. His principles effectively democratized taste.
Recognizing his profound impact on American life, the school adopted Parsons’ name in 1941.
Not long after design entered its repertoire, the old Chase school, by that time known as the New York School of Fine and Applied Art, began applying this new doctrine internationally. In 1921, Parsons initiated a satellite school in Paris, becoming the first art and design school in the United States to find a campus abroad.
It was there, in the 1930s, that the famous Parsons Table was born. The table came into being as a drafting exercise in a class taught by interior designer Jean-Michel Frank in the 1930s, and to this day it is widely regarded as an example of good modern design. With legs as thick as its top, the Parsons Table is synonymous with design that emphasizes an economy of means.
Parsons students today expand their horizons by studying at art and design partner schools in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and around the world. Additionally, many academic programs organize short-term classes, external partnerships, and research-based projects that take students abroad.
Parsons has long regarded its artists and designers as actively engaged citizens. “Materially the American is better off because of his great industrial society. But what is happening to him spiritually?,” wrote president Pierre Bedard in 1954, thirteen years after the school changed its name to Parsons School of Design. “This School is conscious of its great responsibility in forming characters and minds of those who will help shape our civilization.”
Political upheaval and new social history in the late 1960s would challenge several Parsons departments, especially Interior Design. Whereas that curriculum had emphasized middle-class and upscale homes, the program redirected students to work on more socially conscious projects, such as prisons, hospitals, and public housing.
In keeping with this new outlook, 1965’s Interior Design graduates mounted A Place to Live, an exhibition that proposed alternatives to substandard urban housing. Since this formative era, every Parsons program has emphatically championed art and design as both intellectual practice and social responsibility.
In 1970, Parsons joined The New School (then called The New School for Social Research), a renowned institution of progressive thinking.
The New School had been founded in 1919 by a group of prominent progressive scholars including Charles Beard, John Dewey, James Harvey Robinson, and Thorstein Veblen. In planning their school, these distinguished intellectuals envisioned a center for instruction and counseling for mature men and women. They planned it as an alternative to traditional universities, with an open curriculum, minimal hierarchy, and free discussion of controversial ideas.
In 1933, The New School for Social Research gave a home to the University in Exile, a refuge for scholars forced from Europe by the Nazis. In 1934, the University in Exile was incorporated into The New School for Social Research as the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science.
The merger with The New School provided Parsons with new resources to expand its education offerings. The move also strengthened the connection between academic knowledge and social activism. In 1977, for example, the establishment-defying New Museum of Contemporary Art showed its first exhibition, Early Works by Five Contemporary Artists, at The New School.
Today The New School and Parsons are committed to employing design thinking as a way to help solve complex global problems. At the India China Institute, for example, scholars, cultural practitioners, and activists from across the university grapple with urban planning, learning technologies, international collaboration, and other pressing issues facing China, India, and the United States. At PetLab and the Healthy Materials Lab, research fellows and faculty promote public interest engagement through transformative practices, ranging from gaming, social networking, and data mining at PetLab to improving today’s materials to reduce exposure to toxics and improve health at the Healthy Materials Lab.
Projects with community, industry, educational, and government partners often emphasize tangible outcomes. Since 1998, The Design Workshop has provided pro bono design-build services to deserving nonprofit clients. Since 2001, students have worked with the Open Society Institute’s Public Health Program to help health-related nongovernmental organizations – including the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa – develop communications plans, facilitate training, and devise effective implementation strategies. More recently, using a “designing with” model, Parsons partnered with The Fortune Society to develop services to help previously incarcerated individuals re-enter society and build fulfilling lives.
Parsons has an enrollment of approximately 3,800 undergraduate students and 400 graduate students. The student body is 77% women and 23% men, with most of the constituents being full-time students. About one third of the college is made up of international students hailing from 68 different countries. The largest international groups come from Asia, followed by Europe.
Parsons offers twenty-five different programs each housed in one of five divisions:
All these programs can be studied across the various buildings of the university. Like most universities in New York City, Parsons’ campus is spread among scattered buildings, but the main building is located at 13th Street and 5th Avenue. Many other facilities are in buildings shared by other colleges in The New School but some facilities are mainly exclusive to Parsons. Parsons also has a campus abroad located in Paris’s First Arrondissement, known as Parsons Paris.
The main buildings that belong to Parsons are:
Parsons has educated some of the most respected designers in the fashion industry including:
In addition to fashion designers, Parsons is also known for being the alma mater to artists like:
Parsons’ future will be shaped by the core values: curricular innovation, collaborative methods, pioneering uses of technology, and experimentation. As part of The New School, Parsons shares an institutional vision that aligns with shifts in the global economy, society, and environment, which animate their mission and values:
*Creativity, innovation, and a desire to challenge the status quo, both in what and how we teach and in the intellectual ambitions of the school itself
*Social engagement, orienting students’ academic experience to help them become critically engaged citizens dedicated to solving problems and contributing to the public good
Likewise, Parsons pleads that they will fulfill their mission by extending The New School’s legacy as a nontraditional academic community, nimble and responsive to change, that:
*Focuses on and engages with critical contemporary issues
*Prioritizes humanity and culture in designing systems and environments to improve the human condition, an approach that draws on design thinking and the liberal, creative, and performing arts
*Places project-based learning at the center of the educational experience
*Takes full advantage of our New York City location and connectivity to global urban centers
Parsons students are designers, artists, and scholars who learn to apply the transformative capacity of design responsibly, creatively, and purposefully. Our diverse community of students and faculty explore multiple sites and scales of engagement, from on-campus research initiatives to partnerships that bring about change in New York and in the world.
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