History and Timeline

A Glimpse of the Past

December 23, 1916

The Otis Art Institute of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art

General Harrison Gray Otis, Los Angeles Times publisher, donates his spacious Wilshire Boulevard home, known as the Bivouac, to Los Angeles County to be used “continuously and perpetually for the Arts and advancement of the Arts.”

September 1918

Otis opens its doors as the first independent professional school of art in Southern California, with a three-year course in drawing and painting, a two-year course in illustration, and another two-year course in design and applied arts. Tuition is $80 a year. Life drawing classes are separate for men and women but by 1919, they study together. E. Roscoe Shrader was with the school from 1918 until he retired in 1949 as Director.


Otis opens its doors as the first independent professional school of art in Southern California, with a three-year course in drawing and painting, a two-year course in illustration, and another two-year course in design and applied arts. Tuition is $80 a year. Life drawing classes are separate for men and women but by 1919, they study together. E. Roscoe Shrader was with the school from 1918 until he retired in 1949 as Director.


Students publish El Dorado, a book of California’s history, with illustrations by Benji Okubo, John Hench, Charles Morimoto, and Hideo Date.


Otis Art Institute: During the Great Depression, many students are forced to drop out.


Throughout the ’40s, Norman Rockwell spends his winters as an artist-in-residence, painting many of his famed Saturday Evening Post covers, and using Otisians as models.

December 7, 1941

30 students are drafted within a month of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

February 1942

30 students are drafted within a month of the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Tuition for 12 weeks is $60. The Alumni Association establishes a scholarship fund for students who served in the war.


Los Angeles County Art Institute

Millard Sheets becomes Director, and during the ’50s, he restructures the academic programs to offer BFA and MFA degrees. The curriculum is designed primarily to train college-and university-level art teachers. (Otis’ Library was named for Sheets in 1997.) Otis becomes home to the California Ceramics Revolution when Peter Voulkos joins the faculty in 1957. “Peter Voulkos was already legendary, but he was also coming out of recent encounters at Black Mountain College with John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and Merce Cunningham, and meetings with a lot of Abstract Expressionist painters,” observed art dealer Frank Lloyd. “He brought that exposure to avant-garde ideas of the time to Otis, where a vigorous group of students was attracted to work with him.”


New campus facilities, including studios, a gallery, and ceramics studio replace the Bivouac. The Ferus Gallery in Venice becomes a magnet for aspiring L.A. artists who attract national attention. Director Walter Hopps selects Otis students Ken Price, Billy Al Bengston, John Altoon, John Mason, and Robert Irwin—all students of Peter Voulkos—to exhibit.


Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County


Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design

The County of Los Angeles discontinues public support of the College as a result of Proposition 13. The County Board of Supervisors votes to merge Otis with Parsons School of Design in New York, creating a private institution. Fashion Design, Communication Arts, and Environmental Design majors are added, and Continuing Education evening classes are offered.


The first Scholarship Benefit Fashion Show of student designs is held at the Hard Rock Café.


Adolfo Nodal, writer and curator, becomes director of the Otis Art Gallery. He strengthens Otis’ relationship with the city by renovating MacArthur Park’s band shell, commissioning art, and establishing a variety of community programs. Alumnus Kent Twitchell, working with Otis students, creates freeway murals for The Olympic Games.


Brookl7n, later known as Otis Design Group (ODG), an in-house design studio, is started by seven faculty members and students, spearheaded by Sheila deBretteville and Ave Pildas. More than 200 students join this studio during its 22 years. Their non-profit clients include the Lulu Washington Dance Company, L.A. Dept. of Cultural Affairs, Plaza de la Raza, and the Chinese Cultural and Community Center.


Otis is awarded a Presidential “private sector initiative commendation” for its MacArthur Park work.


Otis School of Art and Design/Otis College of Art and Design

Otis becomes independent of Parsons and In 1993, changes its name from Otis School of Art and Design to Otis College of Art and Design. Neil Hoffman is President.


Otis relocates to Westchester to a 1964 IBM research facility designed by Eliot Noyes. The renovated building, named Kathleen Holser Ahmanson Hall, is the central facility of the Elaine and Bram Goldsmith Campus. Toy Design and Digital Media majors are launched. Fashion Design occupies one floor of the California Market Center in downtown’s fashion district, and Graduate Fine Arts studios are in nearby El Segundo. Degree student enrollment is 726.


Samuel Hoi becomes President. Graduate Writing Program is launched.


The Bronya and Andy Galef Center for Fine Arts opens with studios for fine arts students and a professional exhibition space, the Ben Maltz Gallery.


The U.S. Dept. of Education awards a five-year, $1.8 million grant to develop two new degree programs: Interactive Product Design and Advertising Design, and a new area of emphasis in teacher training: Artists, Community and Teaching.


John S. Gordon is appointed the first Provost. Student Learning Resource Center opens to provide tutoring, ESL assistance, counseling and workshops. “Mexican Otis” exhibition at the Mexican Consulate, near the original campus, includes work that spans seven decades by alumni artists of Mexican heritage.


Interactive Product Design major is established. Otis Speaks public lecture and programs series launches.


New identity is introduced. Integrated Learning multidisciplinary site-based curriculum is initiated, with partners including Watts Labor Community Action Committee, Westchester Senior Center, Friends of Ballona Wetlands, and Homeboy Industries. "Otis: Nine Decades of Los Angeles Art" exhibition and catalogue showcase the work of more than 80 fine arts alumni. The Scholarship Benefit Fashion Show breaks the $1 million mark in scholarship funds.


The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching designates Otis among the inaugural group of 76 colleges and universities cited for their commitment to “Curricular Engagement and Outreach & Partnerships.” MFA in Public Practice is launched. The Otis Report on the L.A. region’s Creative Economy is commissioned from the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. More than 6,000 visitors, including representatives of design firms and arts institutions, attend the Class of 2007 Exhibition. The New Media Consortium awards the Library a Center of Excellence Award for its achievement in applying technology to learning, as in its podcast channels on YouTube and iTunesU.


MFA in Graphic Design enrolls its first class. Nike/Hurley team up to create a $1 million scholarship endowment for fashion design students. Student enrollment reaches 1200. Otis celebrates its 90th anniversary with the publication of "Otis Designs." First Donghia Foundation Designer-in-Residence is appointed. Product Design launches entrepreneurship class with LMU. Irvine Foundation awards funding for media arts teaching and OTEAM.


Mattel awards a $1.8 million grant for campus facilities, academic programs, and scholarships. The Ford Foundation awards Graduate Public Practice students for a community residency project in Laton, CA. Environmental Steering Committee commissions first campus carbon footprint study.


New studio facilities open in North Building, expanding the campus to one full block. Dr. Kerry Walk is appointed Provost. The Getty Foundation and Warhol Foundation award support for Doin’ it in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building, one of the core exhibitions in the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time Initiative. Creative Action: Integrated Learning community partners expand to include Surfrider Foundation, Global Green USA, Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Loyola Village Elementary School, Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Richard Riordan Central Downtown Library, Proyecto Jardin, and FilmAid International.


"Clay in L.A." symposium honors the history of ceramics at Otis. Homeboys symposium “From L.A. to the Bay.” Students travel to the Pacific archipelago of Palau for phase one of a three-year project to design a Freedom Memorial. Launch of new minors in sustainability and book arts.


Doin it in Public exhibition draws record number of visitors to Ben Maltz Gallery during the Getty's Pacific Standard Time initiative. First annual Kite Festival takes place at Santa Monica Beach..William Randolph Hearst Foundation awards grant for scholarship support and community projects. “Dwell on Design” exhibition includes sustainable student designs. Students travel to Ningbo, China, to work with German toy firm Hape on sustainable bamboo toy design. 30th anniversary of Scholarship Benefit and Fashion Show.


Graduate Studios open in the burgeoning arts district of Culver City. The Ahmanson Foundation awards a grant for Vets Ahmanson Veteran Scholarship Initiative (AVSI) to assist student veterans. The Sustainability Alliance, a partnership with creative leaders in fashion, design, art, and higher education, launches with inaugural members Nike, Patagonia, Disney, Eddie Bauer, Quiksilver, and Todd Oldham. The Office of International Education established. Disney sponsors a fashion design project with its animated feature Monsters U. Ben Maltz Gallery exhibition Still… of work by alumna Alison Saar (MFA) travels to three museums in U.S. Princeton Review selection for “2014 Best Colleges: Region by Region/Best in the West.” New concentrations in digital media in animation, game and entertainment design, and motion design launched. Otis Report on the Creative Economy expands to cover the state of California with funding from the California Arts Council.


President Samuel Hoi steps down; Dr. Kerry Walk appointed Interim President.


Bruce W. Ferguson becomes President.


The first Residence Hall at Otis College's Goldsmith Campus opens, offering housing for over 200 students. The new Academic Building brings the College's award-winning Fashion Design program to Westchester.


L.A. Summer Residency launches and a first cohort of professional artists and designers attend the three-week program in June.


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The Annual Fashion Show and Scholarship Benefit comes to the Elaine and Bram Goldsmith campus for the first time raising critical funds for student scholarship. The L.A. Summer Residency runs for a second year joined by additional summer programming. Otis College of Art and Design Celebrates its Centennial Otis College of Art and Design celebrates its 100 years in Los Angeles. The College throws a 100th Birthday Party for students, alumni, faculty, and staff, on September 30, 100 years to the day of opening its doors and kicking off a 100% campaign, dedicated to creativity and the 100% commitment artists and designers give to their passion. On November 10 and 11, 2018 the College hosts a 100% Festival for the wider LA community, featuring a Maker's Market, workshops, demos, speakers, music, and more.


In celebration of the Centennial, the College launches the Mandy & Cliff Einstein Visiting Artist Series, a series of conversations with world-renowned artists and thinkers. The series provides Otis College students an opportunity to learn and engage directly with major figures in the art world today.


The Otis Campus partially reopens after it's COVID-19 closure with a mix of online and in-person classes.


Otis college fully reopens its campus to the largest and most diverse class in its history..

Otis Leaders

  • 1918: Channing P. Townsley, Director 
  • 1922-1949: E. Roscoe Shrader, Director
  • 1949-1952: Gaylord Richmond, Director
  • 1954-1962: Millard Sheets, Director
  • 1962-1974: Andreas S. Andersen, Director
  • 1974-1976: Gurdon Woods, Director
  • 1976-1979: Peter Clothier, Acting Director
  • 1979-1983: Neil Hoffman, Director 
  • 1985-1993 Roger Workman (President, 1991) 
  • 1993-2000: Neil Hoffman, President 
  • 2000-2014: Samuel Hoi, President 
  • 2014-2015: Dr. Kerry Walk, Interim President
  • 2015-2019: Bruce W. Ferguson, President
  • 2019-2020: Randall Lavender, Interim President
  • 2020-Present: Charles Hirschhorn, President