Otis showcases the best of student design in Saturday’s “Annual Exhibition ’17”

By Tiffany Walton

Otis graduate Monique Givens’ CryptoTruck models are the basis
for an upcoming animated series

Monique Givens’ monster truck takes the phrase literally. It has teeth. And horns. And spikes.

It’s a pretty badass toy, and it’s also the banner image for Otis College of Art and Design’s “Annual Exhibition ’17,” a public showcase of student work happening Saturday on the Westchester campus.

A recent graduate of Otis’ Toy Design program, Givens’ 3D CryptoTruck models — designs based on cryptozoology creatures like Bigfoot, the Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster — will become characters in an animated series of the same name debuting on YouTube in June.

“It’s exciting that one of the ideas I came up with in school will now be featured as a kids’ series pretty soon,” says Givens, perhaps still in a little disbelief.

“Annual Exhibition ‘17” isn’t just about toys. The panoply of innovative creations, most of them the culminating thesis projects of graduating seniors in BFA and MFA programs, spans the fields of architecture, landscaping, product design, graphic design, animation, costume design, painting, photography, sculpture and video game design.

This all-in-one multidisciplinary survey of what’s new at Otis is not only about celebrating student accomplishments, though. It’s also about helping students find jobs.

“We use our Annual Exhibition as a way to open our doors to potential employers, gallery dealers, art consultants, curators, firms, foundations, companies, and entrepreneurs who are eager to discover the plethora of new talent emerging from Los Angeles’ longest-established and leading college focused on the study of and innovation in contemporary art and design,” says Otis College of Art and Design Provost Randall Lavender.

In other words, while many gallery shows attempt to sell art, this one is about selling talent.

And miracles do happen, but in many cases the road from idea to paycheck is a winding one.

Givens, who graduated last year, first showed her CryptoTrucks at “Annual Exhibition ’16.” While winning high praise for the designs, she did not make any direct connections with potential employers. Undeterred, she pounded out dozens of emails to companies that had visited the toy department’s displays. She heard back from three — none of which had any job openings. One toy company held a contest in which Givens’ monster trucks came in second place, but they passed on commissioning her work.

Months rolled by and Givens was still unemployed. Then the chair of the toy design department called about a toy company looking for freelancers. She reached out and they hired her on the spot. And while she was freelancing, the toy company that had given her an award changed its mind and contacted her with a commission offer.

In more ways than one, Saturday’s exhibit is a full-circle moment for Givens.

“It’s really exciting that something I did a year ago still has relevancy to the school, to the roots of my design career,” she says. “It’s great seeing them in this limelight while I’m simultaneously working on the trucks on another platform with the [cartoon] series.”

“Annual Exhibition ’17” is from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 13, at Otis College of Art and Design, 9045 Lincoln Blvd., Westchester. Admission is free.
Call (310) 665–6800 or visit otis.edu for more information and to peruse student design portfolios.