Pratt Institute held its 126th commencement ceremonies at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Friday, May 15. Joseph V. Melillo, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) executive producer, delivered the graduate ceremony commencement address on behalf of BAM President Karen Brooks Hopkins, who received an honorary degree in absentia.
Holland Cotter, co-chief art critic and a senior writer at The New York Times, delivered the undergraduate ceremony address. Additionally, art luminaries Shepard Fairey, Alison Knowles (Pratt alumna, B.F.A. Illustration ’56) and James Turrell received honorary degrees.
On behalf of Hopkins, Melillo told the story of artist Theaster Gates, who found an artistic way to take advantage of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.
Now director of arts and public life at the University of Chicago, he was at the time a down-and-out potter who scraped up whatever money he could to buy a house. He refurbished it and turned the scraps into artwork, which he sold and used the proceeds to buy another house on the same street. Over the course of seven years, he made community spaces and houses for local artists.
“The moral of the story, Pratt Class of 2015, is Theaster Gates is saving the world one artistic project at a time — and so will you.
“You Pratt graduates possess the secret of Theaster Gates — using your creative imaginations, natural curiosity and artistic vision in your work and in your lives … And we know better than anyone that the fruits of creativity — great buildings, masterpieces of music, literature, design and painting are the only things that actually endure from century to century to century. So you see, creative professionals like yourselves are not about the quick buck (although we wouldn’t mind having it). You are in it for the long haul.
“I urge you, Pratt Class of 2015, to go forward. Seize the day. And save the world one artistic project at a time!”
Fairey remarked, “This is such an incredible honor for me because Pratt is such a prestigious institution, and it’s in unquestionability the coolest borough … For anybody graduating who thinks you’re going into a cold, uncaring world, you’re right. But it’s your job to make people care. You’re creative, so use your creativity to make the world care.”
Turrell spoke about seeing and understanding signs.
“One of the biggest problems is that you don’t often realize that you are a sign of the change to come,” he said. “You are to provide the food for the soul. Your art is what is to become really important in the world.”
Knowles said she was “so honored and delighted I was asked to go to that great school in Brooklyn.”
Cotter spoke about being fueled by love. “[Love] is the element that distinguishes the work of true artists…Over the long haul, love will be the engine for your art,” he said.