donna karan's urban zen foundation, haitian artisan paula coles and parsons school of design bolsters haiti's artisan community through Design, organization, training center

DOT Launch Coincides with the Creation of the Urban Zen Foundation Artisan Scholarship for Professional Training and Student Grants

Joel Towers and Donna Karan in Haiti

Parsons Executive Dean Joel Towers and fashion designer Donna Karan on a visit to Haiti in 2014.

NEW YORK, April 14, 2015– The Urban Zen Foundation, founded by fashion designer Donna Karan, along with Haitian artisan and businesswoman Paula Coles andThe New School’s Parsons School of Design, announce the creation of The DOT center (Design, Organization and Training), anew artisan vocational training center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The launch of the Center is a significant part of Karan’s commitment to President Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative to bring vocational education to Haiti.

Occupying 5,000 square feet in an existing 20,000-square-foot building in Port-au-Prince, The DOT Center will be an incubator for Haiti’s artisan community, fostering innovation, providingresources andmaterials, and enabling artisans to scalewhilepreservingthe wisdom and integrity of their unique culture.

The DOT will help bridgeHaiti’s traditional artisan techniques with the modernity and design innovationneeded to succeed intoday’s global marketplace. Under the tutelage of designers and educators, including Karan and Parsons faculty members, artisans will receive hands-on instruction in material fabrication, including horn, metal, textile, ceramics, natural dying, beading, leather and recycled materials, as well as instruction in the use of new tools and materials to complete their designs.

The Center’s name, DOT, was chosen in honor of Karan’s late husband, businessman and artist Stephan Weiss, who believed in the philosophy of “connecting the dots” to facilitate change.

“My husband’s art and philosophy was born of connecting the dots. This program, named in his honor, is a perfectexample,” said Donna Karan, the co-founder of the DOT Center. “Haiti is a country of artisans bursting with creativity, but without the vocationalskills to bring that talent tonext level.Vocational education, I believe,is the answer.Why not connectthe dots and bring educators and students from Parsons, my alma mater,to Haitiand work with the artisans?”

She added, “This has been my dream ever since I first went to Haiti four years ago. Just as Haitian artisans have inspired me, I hope they are inspired and empowered as this journey begins.”

Concurrent withthe creation ofDOT, Parsons and Urban Zen Foundation will launch theParsons Design Fellowship, a program that grants threeParsons design students the opportunity to work at the DOT for six to eight weeks this summer. In Haiti, students will propose and develop product explorations for design development andproduction, researching local practices and localmaterials and expanding the rangeoflocally produced products.In addition, they will develop and leadworkshops for local artisansin the areas of jewelry, textile development, leather, pottery, hand dying, printing and beading.

“This project embodies many of the core values that make Parsons the groundbreaking institution that it is: a commitment to social engagement, a focus on sustainable design, and a strong connection to the global community,” said Parsons Executive Dean Joel Towers. “Students who travel to Haiti will have the opportunity to gain invaluable experience by working alongside a fashion icon and the local artisan community to elevate Haiti’s design industry.”

Parsons was integral in the creation of the DOT. From Donna Karan’s initial idea to support local Haitian artisans to the realities of a new space and a concrete plan for DOT, the project has been almost two years in the making. Initial planning and strategy developed into the design of the DOT space with Alison Mears, dean of the School of Design Strategies at Parsons, working closely with Urban Zen. In December 2014, two Parsons students began working on the project and traveled to Haiti in March.

Paula Coles will serve as the director of the DOT Center. For the Haitian designer and businesswoman, the DOT Center “represents an important step in helping Haiti’s artisan community gain a foothold in the world market.”

“A lack of resources and vocational education in the Haitian artisan community has significantly reduced access to new tools and/or technologies,” said Coles. “The DOT Center will help introduce a new level of knowledge and expertise that will provide help in every aspect of production, productivity, and design.”

Parsons School of Design at The New School is one of the world’s leading institutions for art and design education. Based in New York but active around the world, the school offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the full spectrum of art and design disciplines. Critical thinking and collaboration are at the heart of a Parsons education. Parsons graduates are leaders in their fields, with a shared commitment to creatively and critically addressing the complexities of life in the 21st century. For more information, visit

Urban Zen Foundation Creates, connects and collaborates to raise awareness and inspire change In the areas of well-being, preserving cultures and empowering children. We design forums, partner with existing organizations and bring together experts to define solutions and implement action. For more information, visit


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Media Contacts:

Scott Gargan,
The New School
212-229-5667 x. 3794
[email protected]

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