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What the Otis College Admissions Team Looks for in a Portfolio, Their Favorite Spots in L.A., and More

With the Early Action Deadline for applications looming, the Admissions staff took a few moments to tell us about themselves and their work.
Anna Raya

The Admissions team at Otis College of Art and Design wants to know everything about potential Otis BFA and MFA students: what they’re passionate about, where their strengths are, how they feel about their creative work, and what they hope to accomplish at Otis. In the lead-up to the Early Action Deadline on Tuesday, December 1, we thought we’d turn the tables to find out a little more about them. The entire Admissions office has some connection to art and design—many are practicing artists—which gives them the care and insight required to review the hundreds of applications and portfolios that come to Otis every spring and fall. They are passionate about Otis, and about living in Los Angeles, including where to find the best taco. Read on for more about the team, which includes Interim Dean of Enrollment Management Yoi Tanaka, Interim Director of Admissions Courtney Richter, Graduate Admissions Counselor Alex Brennan-Arnopol, Transfer Admissions Counselor Killian M. Walsh, Admissions Outreach Counselor Marie Claire Macadar, and Admissions Counselors Brittany A. Fields and Sheri Chillingsworth.

Can you please describe your role in the Admissions office at Otis?
Yoi Tanaka: I’m the Interim Dean of Enrollment Management, so after 12 years in Admissions, I’m now in a role that oversees Admissions, Registration, and the One Stop. I basically do a lot of strategizing on how we can attract the best and brightest to Otis, and how to support them once they are here through to graduation.

Courtney Richter: My role as Interim Director of Admissions involves leading our wonderful recruitment team in welcoming multidisciplinary creatives to Otis by, to quote our mission statement, “providing individualized support, fostering inclusivity, empowering students to make informed decisions, and granting equitable access to our programs.”

Alex Brennan-Arnopol: I primarily work with Graduate Students, however, like all of us in Admissions, I wear many hats. The majority of my work revolves around counseling, advocacy, and evaluation. I see myself as the conduit between the student’s past and the student’s future.

Killian Walsh: As the Transfer Admissions Counselor, I work with all undergraduate applicants, but I specialize in transfer students and the transfer of credits from an applicant’s previous school.

Marie Claire Macadar: I am the Admissions Outreach Counselor, so my role is to reach out to schools both locally and nationally, and see if they would like informational visits and portfolio reviews from Otis.

Brittany Fields: We guide applicants through the application process and submission, review applications, and usher accepted students into the community, working with enrollment and onboarding.

Sheri Chillingworth: I promote what Otis College has to offer prospective students, and communicate how multifaceted careers in art and design are today—especially in Los Angeles. I maintain great relationships with educators so that I can reach as many students as possible.

How does your own background and/or interest in art and design shape your work in Admissions?
Yoi TanakaYoi: My high school did not have a strong art program, so while I knew that I was interested in studying art in college, I didn’t have anyone to guide me. I applied to the University of California (UC) system because I knew they were good schools, and ended up trying to major in Visual Arts at UC San Diego. In my junior year, after studying abroad in South Africa, I switched my major to History because the art department was so impacted and I felt lost at such a big college. However, from working at the art gallery at UCSD, I knew that I had an interest in staying involved in the arts, whether or not I was a practicing artist. After graduation, I gained more art experience working at an artist-in-residence program, and then went to graduate school at NYU and studied Visual Arts Administration because I knew that I wanted to support artists and creatives in their journey.

Courtney: I was an art student in high school, but when I went through the college search process, I wasn’t ready to commit to an art and design college specifically. I was still considering going into other disciplines, and I fell in love with a liberal arts college, one that ended up being the perfect fit for me. During my first semester of college, I didn’t take any studio art classes, and something felt really off. It wasn’t until those few months when I didn’t have an active making practice that I realized how much I needed one! I share this story because there are many different pathways for creative people. This is something that informs my interactions with students—each one is an individual, with a unique set of goals, and a unique journey ahead of them.

Alex: I am an educator, artist, counselor, manager, traveler, emotional cheerleader, and type-A nitpicker… all of the roles one would need to take on within admissions! I studied Fiber Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, and had a career previously in installation art for Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters. I also worked as an education manager, floral designer, financial aid assistant, and teacher, all of which have helped prepare me for the role I am in today.

Killian: My artistic practice was in architecture, and it’s not really a part of what I do any more, but where it comes in handy is in talking with students about the architecture program at Otis. I know the architects who inspired them, can talk a little more technically about their design interests, and answer their questions with a better degree of specificity.

Marie Claire: I am an artist and puppeteer, so art is very much at the forefront of my life! I received a BFA in fibers in 2017, and have been creating work for as long as I can remember. Having my own practice means I know all the struggles that making art and design work comes with. This allows me to relate to prospective students and help them through times of artist’s block and application anxiety in a way that’s genuine and kind.

Brittany: I have worn many hats in the art world, from being a gallery assistant, to working in fine art production, to higher education as a fine art student, and to my personal art practice. All of these experiences give me windows of insight to where the incoming students might want to be.

Sheri: I am an Otis alum. I have also put three children through college, so I have perspective as a student, parent, and artist. I can relate to our students on many levels.

What do you look for in a portfolio?
Yoi: I look for what the student is passionate about. This can be a theme or idea that a student is so dedicated to exploring through their work, or a process or technique that they are super committed to. It’s not always the best artists who make the best portfolios, but rather the students who have the most passion for their craft.

Courtney RichterCourtney: When I see a student’s portfolio that really demonstrates that they’ve found an idea or a process that is their jam—that’s the most exciting moment! I once had a college professor ask, “What would you make if your art was a secret and you didn’t have to show it to anyone?” I found that idea so freeing, and I often find that some of the most daring and special ideas are tucked in a student’s sketchbook—something they haven’t really allowed themselves to explore yet. I encourage students to follow that intuition and bring that “secret” work to the forefront!

Alex: I look for personal voice. I always tell students, “I can teach you how to draw…but I cannot teach you to be yourself, that is a discovery you must make on your own.” Show who you are, and you will show the very best of your talents!

Brittany: My top three things I look for are 1) Effort: a good demonstration of how you tried to explore an idea or technique over time and that you didn’t just go with your first idea or didn’t just try that idea or technique or explore that concept once. 2) Something new, exciting, or unique: Sometimes there are students who tap into these gems in their portfolio, their creativity is shining, and often they don’t know it or think to explore it more. Those are often the most successful or stand out works in their portfolio and can sometimes be windows into their major/creative career path potential. 3: Good Documentation/Presentation: It shows you care about your work and how other people experience it. It also shows how you think as an artist. The way you chose to frame, crop, and even order/categorize your work shows that you understand yourself as a creative and a creative communicator.

What makes Otis unique?
Courtney: Otis is an incredibly supportive and positive learning environment, for both students and professionals. I am consistently proud of how, as an institution, Otis is always striving to do more and do better. I am truly blown away by the work that students make, and by how well-prepared they are as they go off into the wider creative world after graduation!

Killian: It’s the rare school that can focus on career readiness and professional preparation without compromising on the all important breadth of a liberal arts education. Students become broadly equipped for work in a variety of fields, while also specializing in key areas necessary for them to succeed in the industries they aspire to join.

Marie Claire: Otis has a wonderful mix of a tight-knit community with a diverse student population, incredibly high-quality art design education, and an abundance of work/internship opportunities in Los Angeles for students to take advantage of.

What do you say to current applicants who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their college experience at Otis?
Yoi: It’s definitely a challenging time for everyone, but even more so for applicants who are trying to navigate the admissions process during the uncertainty of COVID-19. In Admissions, we’ve tried to be as communicative and supportive as possible because we know this is an anxiety-inducing time for applicants. We are fortunate at Otis that we are a small campus, and are full of innovators who have approached online learning and working like any creative challenge. Problem-solving and adapting is what we do best!

Alex: If you are thinking that the world will never be the same, you are quite right. We are changing and evolving, and so is the college experience. A wise woman said to me recently, “Why are you waiting for COVID to end to begin your life?” She is quite right! Now, more than ever, is the time to help redefine how we experience education in the world. Furthermore, Otis is committed to your health and safety—your experience as a student at Otis is our number one priority!

Killian WalshKillian: College is going to look and feel different for a while, no matter what institution a student chooses to attend. What I would reassure them about with Otis is that the school responded promptly and appropriately to the development of this pandemic right from the jump. We have the itemized timeline of our institutional response posted on the Otis website, but from a staff perspective, I was greatly comforted by the prioritization of staff, student, and faculty well-being. Talking to some colleagues at other institutions, and what they had to deal with, makes me feel especially grateful.

Marie Claire: There are many advantages to online learning that students have shared with me, including more one-on-one time with professors, and being challenged to innovate their ways of working.

Sherri ChillingworthSheri: I let them know how proactive we have been in preparing for every scenario—online, in person, hybrid. The campus has been transformed so that students can feel safe when they are on campus. Our facilities, studios, labs, and library are open for local students. We are guided by what the state and county allow us to do.

What’s the best thing about studying in Los Angeles?
Yoi: I love the fact that L.A. is extremely diverse, that I can find any kind of food I want, that it has natural beauty while being a big city that has amazing arts and cultural institutions. Plus, you can’t beat the weather! Everything seems possible when it’s 75 degrees outside and sunny. After living in New York City for almost a decade, I don’t miss the winters.

Alex Brennan-ArnopolAlex: Living in L.A. is like living in a giant, creative candy shop! There is pretty much everything you could ask for here. You want it? Chances are we’ve got it! As an artist or designer, there is no better city in the world.

What is your favorite L.A. spot?
Yoi: I enjoy going to the beach in Playa Del Rey during my lunch break. It’s only five minutes from campus, but it can give me a much needed dose of fresh air and zen in an hour away from my desk.

Courtney: I love Kenneth Hahn park (pictured above, left). It’s a great spot to go for a quick hike, jog, or picnic. The flowers bloom into incredible pinks and yellows each spring.

Alex: Point Dume Park (pictured above, right). Every time I have gone I have seen dolphins or whales… it makes my heart sing!

Killian: The Dynasty Typewriter theater. Although we’re not really in a position to be attending live shows at the moment, this is a smaller venue where big acts go to do more intimate shows, or workshop something before taking it to a bigger venue. It’s also right near Otis’ original location by MacArthur Park.

Marie Claire MacadarMarie Claire: My favorite spot in L.A. is Barnsdall Art Park. Located in Hollywood, the park has a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and incredible views of the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, and the sunsets.

Who makes the best taco in L.A.?
Courtney: I’m a huge fan of Guisado’s (pictured above, center). Try the taco sampler, and do yourself a favor and add a quesadilla to your order!

Alex: The tiny taco stand near the Ralphs grocery store on Melrose Avenue, near Larchmont Boulevard. I promise, try their al pastor…your life will never be the same again.

Killian: A bit closer to Otis, LAX Tacos on Arbor Vitae Street. Along with a great al pastor, they also have lengua and birria on the main menu.

Sheri: This is a tough question. I love Casa Vega in the Valley. It’s iconic.

The Early Action Deadline for applications is Tuesday, December 1, 2020. For more information on applying to Otis College, please visit otis.edu/admissions. Applicants can also chat with Admissions counselors and current student ambassadors at otis.edu/chat