Chavón and Parsons: A 40-Year Design School Partnership

April 13, 2022

Chavon Parsons Chavón The School of Design's La Romana campus was modeled after a sixteenth century Spanish colonial village.

Since 1982, the collaboration between the Dominican Republic’s Chavón The School of Design and New York’s Parsons School of Design has launched the artistic careers of more than 300 students and re-defined international art education. As the schools celebrate 40 years of working together, Parsons faculty members and graduates reflected on this unique partnership and how it led to the 2022 launch of the June Intensive at Chavón.

Chavon ParsonsStudents participate in field trips that build on class projects and incorporate the D.R.'s rich culture.

"'Why the D.R.?' you may ask," said Stephen Kaplan, Chavón School Director who was part of the program's founding team. "As a developing country, with 11 or 12 million inhabitants, it is a proving ground for ideas and has many design opportunities."

Back in the 1980s, Kaplan was working on a thesis for Parsons titled Fostering the Folk Art of The Dominican Republic. His idea to create an artist village in this remote, idyllic setting caught the attention of Rachel Rippy, who was running a collaborative program between Parsons and Bank Street College of Education. Soon investors got involved and Kaplan began turning the idea into a reality.

Parsons faculty members carefully crafted Chavón’s curriculum so that students could begin their studies at Chavón, and after two years, continue their art education at Parsons. And so the 2+2 Program was born.

“The transferring students realized the importance of the opportunity to study in New York at Parsons,” Kaplan said. “They worked very hard and stood out for their efforts. Many found their places in the world of design in New York or in their home countries.”

Chavon Parsons David Levy, the executive dean of Parsons at the time, was intrigued by the level of artistic talent in the D.R. He awarded many incentive scholarships to Chavón graduates. Image courtesy of The New School Digital Collection.

Since 1985, approximately 300 students have finished the program, averaging five to 10 Parsons transfers a year. Graduates have pursued creative professions in fashion, illustration, animation, and more.

“For me, the 2+2 program between Chavón and Parsons NYC was life-changing,” said Jonathan Schmidt, who graduated in 2005 with a specialization in illustration. “The lessons I learned in those four years went far beyond drawing, painting, and storytelling. Chavón taught me how to be resourceful and Parsons taught me how to put the available resources into positive action.”

After the program, Schmidt pursued a career in illustration and animation. His work has been exhibited in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, New York (Studio Museum in Harlem and Parsons Gallery), and Connecticut (Mystic Seaport). He opened his own animation studio in 2013.

Kaplan agreed that the benefits of the program surpassed the technical art skills alone.

“The natural beauty inspired generations of art and design majors, who, in turn, took their skill and knowledge with them and changed the design reality of the country,” Kaplan said. “Those who continued to Parsons through 2+2 returned to find a Dominican job market hungry for what they had learned at Parsons in New York.”

Chavon Parsons Students gain experience in describing their work through verbal and written formats in small groups.

This international collaborative spirit is behind the new June Intensive at Chavón, which gives college students and adults a chance to learn fashion design in a tropical environment while earning college credit. With two campuses—one in La Romana and one in the world heritage capital of Santo Domingo—students are encouraged to find inspiration in their surroundings.

Chavon ParsonsBefore teaching at Chavón, Marie Genevieve Cyr led design workshops throughout Europe and Asia.

“When I arrived at Chavón’s La Romana campus, it was like arriving at an artist paradise with outdoor workshops and incredible views,” said Assistant Professor of Fashion Design Marie Genevieve Cyr. “The landscape surrounding the campus is part of the experience. Santo Domingo offers an explosive city environment where sounds, materials, and people are at the core of your research and processes.”

"Stephen came to my office and contagiously shared his love and passion for Chavón The School of Design—his life project. I was really moved by him and his story. We then embarked on developing a four-day intensive workshop with students at their Fashion Design campus in Santo Domingo," said Cyr, who has taught at Parsons for 11 years. “The D.R. is an ideal setting for students who want to experience and create fashion in a totally new environment. This experimental and intuitive course will open new perspectives on design and art away from the traditional geographies of fashion (e.g. NYC, Paris, Milan). It helps students to focus and develop meaningful, personal, and collaborative work.”

Learn more about the next chapter of the Chavón/ Parsons partnership: the June Intensive at Chavón. The Fashion Design Explorations course starts June 6!

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