Model of Collaboration: Baltimore Design School + MICA

The brainchild of then Maryland State Senator Catherine Pugh, former MICA President Fred Lazarus and Baltimore architect Steve Ziger, the Baltimore Design School (BDS) opened in 2011 to provide Baltimore City teens a place to learn fashion design, architectural design and graphic design.

At the heart of the school is design thinking. Its integration into the whole curriculum has a way of deepening learning in every content area from academics to design courses. 

“We started with two grades, six and seven, and then added another grade every year,” said Karen Carroll, dean emeritus of MICA’s Center of Art Education and a member of the BDS Board of Trustees. “Last year was our first graduation, and this year, kids are graduating who began with us in the sixth grade. Nearly every one of our graduates both years has been accepted into colleges, many with supportive scholarships.”

This past year, BDS graduates were accepted into several four- and two-year colleges, including MICA, Carnegie Mellon University, Morgan State University, Stevenson  University, Towson University and Howard University.

BDS is a magnet for MICA alums. Several of its teachers, including Leah Brown Hucker ’07 ’08, Stephanie Cafaro Edwards ’07 ’08, Meghann Harris ’11 ’12 and Molly Roberts Jones ‘12 ‘13, received their Master of Arts degrees from MICA in teaching. 

The school’s proximity to MICA benefits students and staff at both locations, Carroll said. “Many times, students from BDS have walked over to MICA for lectures, tours and workshops,” she said. “This year, we had several collaborative projects between MICA and BDS.”

One such project, designed by Leah Hucker and MICA Fiber department faculty members Annet Couwenberg and Piper Shepard, brought ninth graders together with MICA undergraduates. It began with a trip for BDS students to the Baltimore Museum of Art, where they searched for pattern design inspiration. Next, the students observed a MICA class devoted to fabric pattern design. 

MICA students and faculty then visited BDS to talk with students about their designs — and a few of them even had their designs printed on fabric at MICA.

“This collaborative project stands as a model for others wherein MICA and BDS students and faculty can cross paths and learn from each other,” Carroll said.

BDS is energizing the city’s design community and changing the face of the design industry overall, Carroll said. The majority of its students are African American, many of whom have experienced life in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Some have also been touched by trauma, Carroll said.

“Many come with real needs of a social nature that are challenging and perplexing, yet when you start to see a student’s life turn around, it makes everything worthwhile,” Carroll said. She added: “The headline of the future will be that Baltimore Design School changed the face of the design community by helping young students of color find their way into the design profession.”