CUNY’S first design studio re-emerges after setback

In October, four months after graduating from Bronx Community College, Sydney Guzman and Chelsea Davis found themselves back in the classroom that started it all for them. 

Former Bronx Community College alums Chelsea Davis and Sydney Guzman with Lisa Amowitz. Photo: Ali McPherson.

Guzman and Davis became close after interning at the Bronx Design Studio, a program that only recently secured its funding for Spring 2020. 

“This program has a history of maintaining connections with graduates, and there’s something about this place that when you leave, you think of it as your home, your spiritual home,” said Lisa Amowitz. Amowitz is a professor and Director of the Digital Arts program.

Despite the program’s initial success and its role in solidifying an articulation agreement between BCC and Fashion Institute of Technology, the program ended after only three months after failing to receive enough funding in time for the summer and fall of this year.

Amowitz was excited to announce that the studio will be starting up again for Spring 2020. 

 The Bronx Design Studio, located in Bliss Hall at BCC was developed to give students the opportunity to work with small start-up businesses who are in the process of building their brand. Amowitz and Professor Jeanine-Kelley Williams started the program earlier this year.

The studio accepts six interns at a time, and each intern is paid $15 an hour. Interns worked with minority-owned small businesses such as BodyWork, Fosco Farms, and Serengeti Teas in Spring 2019. 

Former intern, Laniece Smith said the delay in funding came as a shock. Smith graduated in June 2019 and put her bachelor’s degree on hold to work at the Bronx Design Studio again.

Smith would have been promoted as senior designer, along with Davis, had the program continued. 

“Without the studio, we wouldn’t have gotten the chance to deal with people in the real world. To delay the funding is to delay not only your learning but the chances of other businesses being successful,”  said Smith.

Isiah Fynn, who graduated over a year ago, said if it wasn’t for the design studio, he wouldn’t have had the portfolio or skills to intern at Red Antler, a top marketing agency in Brooklyn.

Richard Ginsberg, the assistant Vice President of Communication and Marketing, said the City College of New York provided the start-up money for the studio and that there are always other opportunities to look to other areas in CUNY for funding.

Amowitz credited Kenneth Adams, the Dean for Workforce and Economic Development, for supporting the program and providing funding from the very beginning.

“We got startup funding from CUNY and now for the new semester, we’re going to fund it from the college level. We got generous funding to get it going again from BCC,” said Adams.

Adams admitted to not being able to raise money for the remainder of the program this year, which is why it was halted. He also said it’s important not to rely on one support system. He wants to make sure the studio is self-sustaining in the future. 

Amowitz and Ginsberg said they have clients and students lined up ready to join the program in the spring.

Guzman and Davis said they felt empowered after working at the design studio, producing some of their best work there. Davis will most likely be promoted to senior designer once the program starts up again.  

“There is a special camaraderie among the people in the design studio. In a competitive workforce environment, you will see these folks pulling for each other and rooting for each other,” said Ginsburg. “It’s a special place.” 

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