Otis College of Art and Design is pleased to announce a full, four-year scholarship program named for influential American artist and educator, Charles White (1918-1979). The Charles White Art and Design Scholarship celebrates the legacy of the artist and serves to honor his enduring influence as an Otis faculty member from 1965 until his passing in 1979. The Scholarship is made possible in part through a $10 million gift from Mei-Lee Ney, Chair of Otis College’s Board of Trustees, and is launched in cooperation with White’s son, C. Ian White, and The Charles White Archives.
“We are extraordinarily grateful to Mei-Lee for her generous gift and shared commitment to Otis College’s important diversity, equity, and inclusion work and to Ian White for partnering with us to celebrate his father’s work and legacy,” said Otis College President Charles Hirschhorn. “The Charles White Art and Design Scholarship is one of many ways Otis College is expanding access to arts education for young creatives in Los Angeles and beyond.”
The inaugural scholarship will be awarded to an incoming first-year art and design student from an underrepresented group in Los Angeles County in Spring 2022 for a Fall 2022 start. Beginning in 2023, the scholarship will expand to include one student from Los Angeles County, and one from anywhere in the United States, using the same selection criteria as the Los Angeles County scholarship.
White was renowned for his figurative style—which ran counter to abstract movements of the time—as well as his representations of Black life and his commentary on social justice issues as seen through his paintings, drawings, lithographs, and murals. As an instructor, White influenced the work and practice of such celebrated artists as Kerry James Marshall, David Hammons, Richard Wyatt Jr., Alonzo Davis, Judithe Hernández, and Kent Twitchell, all of whom—and more—came to study with him.
“This scholarship program creates an opportunity for a young artist to explore their creative gifts. Charles White was twice denied scholarships to further his artistic interests as a young adult solely based on his pigmentation. As an established artist, he was even denied entry to see his own work because of his pigmentation. I appreciate the generous gift by Mei-Lee for her recognition of White’s contribution and acknowledgement of the lack of students of color in artistic institutions,” said C. Ian White, an artist, author, and educator who oversees the Charles White Archives. “Generations of students were impacted by Charles White’s presence on the Otis campus, who were and continue to be tremendous contributors in their own right to the arts and their communities. This scholarship will be an avenue for young creatives to enter the arts and build a more inclusive cultural landscape.” C. Ian White co-curated Life Model: Charles White and His Students, a companion exhibition to Charles White: A Retrospective, which the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York organized in 2018 and was the first major exhibition of White’s work in more than 30 years that also traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art the following year.
David Hammons, who attended Otis from 1968-1972, shared the following on being in Charles White’s classroom: “I stayed in that class a long, long time. But you know it was more about being around a professional, it was like being in the room with [Muhammad] Ali. Or James Baldwin. Just being in that room with that kind of confidence, [that kind of] honesty—that’s what was really happening. Whatever I was drawing wasn’t really that important. The spirit and the energy and the dignity was.”
A gift of $1 million by Ney was announced in 2020 in support of the creation of an executive role dedicated to Otis College’s equity, diversity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy. Ney’s combined gifts support the College’s commitment to DEI across several programs, and the College, students, faculty, and staff through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Ney’s $10 million gift is among the largest in Otis College’s history. To commemorate her generosity, a building on the College’s Goldsmith campus in Westchester will be named after Ney.
“It’s an honor to provide access for underrepresented students to an art and design education at Otis College, an institution I care about deeply. Charles White opened the door for so many artists of diverse backgrounds through his impactful work and teaching, and it’s wonderful to continue that legacy through this new scholarship,” said Mei-Lee Ney.
In addition to chairing the Board of Trustees at Otis College, Ney sits on the Board of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology; the USC Pacific Asia Museum; the Huntington Library, Art Museums, and Botanical Gardens; and Huntington Hospital. She is the president of Richard Ney & Associates Asset Management Inc., an investment advisory firm she has helped run with her business partner and late husband, Richard, since 1973. A native of Shanghai, China, Ney immigrated to the U.S. when she was two and was raised by a single mother. A self-made woman, Ney sometimes worked up to five jobs to put herself through college.
Otis College has launched several DEI initiatives over the past year, including the announcement of a new Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, who reports to President Hirschhorn and sits on the College’s senior leadership team; the launching of the Black Creatives Institute; and the announcement of a DEI statement that includes Otis’s Ten Points: Standing Up for Equity. For more information, please visit otis.edu/charles-white-scholarship.
Main image: Charles White painting Mary McLeod Bethune, 1978. © THE CHARLES WHITE ARCHIVES/PHOTO FRANK J. THOMAS