History of Studio School of Design

Mark Stanley and Clifton Taylor, two of the founders of Studio School of Design. photo by Rosalie O’Connor


Studio School of Design (SSD) was founded in 2021 with the concept of providing lifelong learning opportunities for professionals, pre-professionals, and educators in the entertainment design professions, with the core principle of de-centering the professions and creating new opportunities for high quality, industry-led, affordable professional training outside of formal educational settings.

Lighting Designer Mark Stanley brought the initial idea of creating a new non-accredited training center modeled on the storied Lester Polakov School to Clifton Taylor in 2000 during the global coronavirus-19 pandemic. Mark and Clifton began a long and happy professional partnership which resulted in the formation of Studio School of Design, Inc. as a registered New York State Charity in March of 2021.

In addition to Mark and Clifton, the founding Board of Directors were Ken Tabachnick, Executive Director of the Merce Cunningham Trust; Pat MacKay, journalist, writer, editor and publisher and founder of the Entertainment Technology Communications Corporation which published Theatre Crafts International/TCI and Lighting Dimensions (now published as Live Design Online), and founded the entertainment technology industry trade show and seminar event, LDI.; George B. Walker, Jr., Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Peter Vincent, a seasoned Human Resources executive and Leadership Coach whose resume includes senior HR positions at Sony, Time Inc./Time Warner, and the National Audubon Society; and Linda Shelton, Executive Director and Trustee at the Joyce Theater Foundation.

In addition to the Board of Directors, SSD formed an Advisory Board made up of designers, manufacturers, educators and other professionals from the entertainment design worlds to help shape the curriculum and provide wisdom and guidance. In addition, there is a standing scholarship committee formed of board members and advisory board members who look at applications and decide on program fee reduction grants.

Many people helped us with pro-bono and reduced cost professional help in the first year, including Ellyn Sosin with Accounting help, PTownie, Inc and Mr. Mike Miller for Logo and initial website development, Joann Luehring at RH Tax Consultants with legal advice around the 501c3 Application Process. We are so grateful for this help and wouldn’t have been able to open and operate without this critical assistance.

First Year of Operation (2021)

In the first term of programs, during the Summer of 2021, SSD offered four classes and served 68 students from 8 countries. 46% (31) of these participants were women, 28% (19) identified at BIPOC and 12% (8) were from countries outside the US. We gave away over $6200 to 15 (21%) students who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to participate in our programs. Because of the persistence of the global Coronavirus-19 pandemic, all of these initial classes were given over zoom. The initial program facilitators were the amazing designers Roma Flowers, Craig Stelzenmuller, Robert Barnhart and Amith Chandrashaker.

In the fall of 2021, the programs were expanded our offerings with 2 additional courses: an Introduction to Projection Design facilitated by David Bengali and an Introduction to Pre-Visualization, facilitated by the fine folks at earlybird visual, LLC.

We ended year one in the black and look forward to creating a program for young people in the summer of 2022 and expanding our offerings to create seminars and in-person experiences in conjunction with our new partner in New York City: The Chelsea Factory.

Now in our third year,

SSD is operating programs under contract with the DOE in New York for Teachers’ Professional Development and in-school learning. We are continuing our successful life-long learning programs with classes for Scene Painting, Television and Video lighing, Assisting on Large Scale Productions, and more, and we have begun to offer week-long lighting workshops and in-person experiential seminars in the US and abroad.

In the summer, we offer an in-person intensive workshop for rising HS Juniors and Seniors in New York area Title 1 schools. This program is free to the participants. Since 2023, we have also been able to give the participants a stipend for participation, partially offsetting income loss from summer employment. In 2025, we plan to offer a “gap” year internship for post-secondary learners in lighting design and production in collaboration with area employers.