New York’s Fashion Institute Students Tailor Solutions to World’s Problems

With works by more than 600 students exhibited in about eight spaces throughout campus, the 2024 Graduating Student Exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) offers a kaleidoscopic look at the creative output of recent grads — and a glimpse into the future of design.

Though “fashion” anchors the name of the famed institute, this wide-ranging presentation includes works that extend well beyond the world of clothing and accessories, fabrics, and styling. With capstones from 16 areas of study in FIT’s School of Art and Design, the show encompasses projects from students who majored in advertising and digital design, animation and interactive media, game design, fine arts, illustration, photography, jewelry, interior design, spatial experience design (think: immersive museum installations or branded events), toy design, and packaging design. Needless to say, it is as eclectic as it is expansive.

Roaming the halls and galleries of FIT, you’ll find a sprawling array of objects, art, and concepts, accompanied by QR codes galore: Sleek labels for pickle jars and full-color cans of espresso martinis. A maquette for a cat playground. A reimagined hospital waiting room, designed to comfort and soothe anxiety. Ad campaigns addressing issues like adult loneliness, reproductive health, and wheelchair accessibility in museums. Storybooks and matching plush stuffed toys. Floor plans for a multilevel space for e-bike commuters and a biophilic community center built from scrap materials and “urban leftovers.” Fine jewelry, polished and gleaming. Futuristic footwear. A floor-to-ceiling sculpture made from pantyhose-esque spandex. A cavalcade of mannequins donning dresses, suits, and other get-ups. 

Though it’s tricky to neatly sum up such diverse works made toward wildly divergent goals, taken together, the designs and artworks collectively address “hopes and dreams for the 21st century,” to borrow a phrase from the introductory text for Archaic Future, the Fine Arts BFA program’s well-curated exhibition. In their works, FIT students grapple with the fraught world they’re graduating into and imagine better, brighter possibilities. They wield traditional and emerging tools and materials to explore themes of environmental collapse and sustainable solutions, oppressive systems and holistic community care, developing strategies to tend to mental health and well-being. 

Ciara Collins presents a sensory-friendly subway experience in an imagined MTA ad campaign for “ComMUTE” (all works c. 2024), a quiet car catering to the needs of children with autism. In “The Urge to End It All,” an installation comprised of a video, book, and jacquard wall-hanging, graphic designer Brandon Sanichar delves into root causes of the high suicide rates in Guyana. The piece advocates for a cultural perspective that, as phrased in the book, “places less blame on individuals and more on collective systemic factors.” 

Michelle Kenderish’s L-shaped, suspended sculpture, titled “Source Origin,” slices through the Archaic Future gallery with a gradient of translucent jewel-toned panels made from bioplastics, echoing the organic textures of Eva Hesse’s fiberglass and resin pieces. According to a statement contained in a binder in the gallery, the artist chose this experimental, biodegradable material in pursuit of “a circular approach to artmaking that allows the environment to reclaim the work over time.”

The pieces in the show actively aim to shape culture, rather than just reflect it, in an attempt to drive change. Through the prism of these graduating FIT students’ works, a hopeful vision for the future comes into focus. As this wave of artists and designers get their diplomas and emerge into the wider working world, I’m excited to see how their creative visions continue to ripple and take root.

The 2024 Graduating Student Exhibition continues in several spaces throughout the Fashion Institute of Technology’s campus (West 27th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, Chelsea, Manhattan) through May 26, 2024. FIT organized the exhibition.

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