DMTV Milkshake: Frances Bronet on How Pratt Institute Guides Its Students + Community Beyond The Academy
In January 2018, Frances Bronet became the president of New York City’s Pratt Institute – only the twelfth person to rise to the post since its founding in 1887.
Now, Bronet sets the course for an institution regarded as one of the country’s most influential art and design schools. For this week’s Milkshake, we asked her about how she wields the cultural and political power that comes with the job. “It’s a heavy question,” she says. “[Pratt] is an extraordinary place and has had a very, very long history of engaging with New York City, with Brooklyn, with the local communities – and what you do when you have that kind of relationship over a long period of time is you build trust.” Trust, she says, builds relationships – and power is best exercised within that context. “For example, because we have had a long-standing K-12 program in the community, over 100 years old, serving 1200 students a year at this point – we have relationships that we’ve cultivated for many, many decades. We decided we would think about what would happen if we could build a public high school that could bring together the power of design thinking and doing, with the importance of social justice, ultimately empowering students to make change in the world.” The school is now developing that program in collaboration with the Bank Street College of Education.
We also asked Bronet how the school nurtures its artistic talent – in that incredible stage before their work enters the marketplace and so is, perhaps, commodified. “We don’t think about the sort of boundaries of a school as ‘protecting’ [students] – although we do want to cultivate our students to really think about their work and their process, [so] they’re not just generating ‘product.’” That said, she wants their students to have the tools they need for when they leave the relative safety of school: “We want them to take extraordinary intellectual risks, but we also want them to understand that they’re working in a context,” she says. “We have a center for career and professional development. We also have something for our artists called Pratt Forward – led by alumni and our Chair of Fine Arts Jane South, and alumni Mickalene Thomas and Derrick Adams, who’s also a trustee – who are mentoring the next generation of students as they merge out of our Master’s of Fine Arts program and start to think about their own practices. How do they work with galleries? How do they work with museums? How do they put their art into the world?”
For more from Bronet – including the latest word on their new landscape architecture grad program, tune in!
Diana Ostrom, who has written for Wallpaper, Interior Design, ID, The Wall Street Journal, and other outlets, is also the author of Faraway Places, a newsletter about travel.
Milkshake, DMTV (Design Milk TV)’s first regular series, shakes up the traditional interview format by asking designers, creatives, educators and industry professionals to select interview questions at random from their favorite bowl or vessel. During their candid discussions, you’ll not only gain a peek into their personal homeware collections, but also valuable insights into their work, life and passions.