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Otis College of Art and Design Announces Artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby as 2024 Commencement Speaker

Artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Janet Marie Smith
The artist and MacArthur Fellow will receive an honorary doctorate alongside architect, urban planner, and Los Angeles Dodgers executive Janet Marie Smith.

Otis College of Art and Design announced today that acclaimed visual artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby will receive an honorary degree and deliver the 2024 commencement address this May. Architect and urban planner Janet Marie Smith, Executive Vice President of Planning and Development for the Los Angeles Dodgers, will also receive an honorary degree and offer remarks during the ceremony. 

Otis College’s commencement ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 12, 2024 at El Camino College’s Marsee Auditorium. The ceremony is the culmination of O-Launch, the College’s annual celebration, including a fashion show and a campus-wide exhibition, taking place May 10-12.

Akunyili Crosby and Smith, who will receive Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees, have made significant contributions to Los Angeles and their respective fields. 

Akunyili Crosby is known for work that “negotiates the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native Nigeria, creating collage and photo transfer-based paintings that expose the challenge of occupying these two worlds” (The Smithsonian). Akunyili Crosby graduated in 2004 from Swarthmore College, where she studied art and biology as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. After considering a future in medicine, she decided to pursue art so she could share her experience as a Nigerian of the diaspora through her work. Akunyili Crosby received her MFA from Yale University School of Fine Art in 2011 and was selected as artist-in-residence at the highly regarded Studio Museum in Harlem, which is known for its support of emerging African artists. In 2015, the Hammer Museum at UCLA presented her first solo exhibition. That same year her work was exhibited at Art + Practice in Los Angeles. In 2016, Akunyili Crosby was named one of the Women of the Year by Financial Times and in 2017 she was awarded the prestigious Genius Grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

In 2023, Akunyili Crosby was the Mandy and Cliff Einstein Visiting Artist at Otis College, where she spent time in dialogue with Otis students and delivered a free public lecture.

Smith is Executive Vice President of Planning and Development for the Los Angeles Dodgers and founder of Canopy, a consulting business built around civic sports and urban development. The Dodgers are one of four MLB teams that has been proud to call her an executive of the club, one of the first women in such a senior front office position. Trained as an architect and urban planner, she is renowned for her influence on the last generation of sports and entertainment venues and their relationships to their respective cities. She has overseen the design, renovation, and development for major league baseball parks in Baltimore, Atlanta, Boston, and Los Angeles. With her role in the creation of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992, Smith ushered in a new way of thinking about sports with a focus on urban design, architecture, and graphic design. Camden Yards featured elements drawn from the classic era of ballparks while incorporating modern elements and building techniques. The Dodgers’ renovations have celebrated the mid-century modern styles that were crafted in Southern California. Smith earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Mississippi State University and a master’s degree in urban planning from The City University of New York. Prior to her work in baseball, she led and managed several civic projects in Los Angeles and New York. In 2019, Smith was named one the “30 Most Powerful Women in Sports” by AdWeek

A Tradition of Excellence

Otis College has a long tradition of awarding honorary degrees to influential artists, designers, and thinkers. Special consideration is given to those whose work has had an impact within their field and who have a background and experiences that reflect the College’s mission and its programs.

Last year’s recipients were Miky Lee, Vice Chairwoman of CJ Group, and Kulapat Yantrasast, founder and creative director of WHY Architecture. Past recipients include Bobby Berk, Lauren Halsey, David Hockney, Miranda Kerr, Bella Lewitzky, Cheech Marin, Kerry James Marshall, Betye Saar, and Evan Spiegel. A full list of honorary degree recipients can be found on the Otis College website.

About Otis College

Established in 1918, Otis College of Art and Design is a nonprofit 501(c)3 institution that prepares students in the art and design capital of Los Angeles for a dynamic future in the creative economy. The College educates a diverse community of over 1,250 students in a supportive setting to become highly skilled professionals in established and emerging creative sectors. Alumni and faculty are Fulbright, MacArthur, and Guggenheim grant recipients, Oscar winners, legendary costume designers, leaders of contemporary art movements, entrepreneurs, and design stars at influential companies including Apple, Pixar, DreamWorks, Mattel, Nike, and Netflix. Since 2007, the College has commissioned the Otis College Report on the Creative Economy, an invaluable tool that assesses the tremendous influence and economic impact of the creative sector.