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Environmental Scientist, Illahee Founder Peter Schoonmaker Named Founding Chair of New PNCA Program

Release date: 07/12/11

July 12, 2011

Becca Biggs, Director of Communications
Pacific Northwest College of Art, 971 255 5511

Environmental Scientist and Illahee Founder Peter Schoonmaker Named Founding Chair of New Pacific Northwest College of Art Program

PORTLAND, OR – July 12, 2011 – Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) announces the appointment of Dr. Peter Schoonmaker as Chair of the Master of Fine Arts in Collaborative Design program.

“We are very pleased to enlist Dr. Schoonmaker to lead this groundbreaking program. He appreciates fully that the world’s most intractable problems require solutions that are at once creative and collaboratively determined,” said Tom Manley, President of PNCA. “Peter is known to many in Portland through his exceptional work as the founder and president of Illahee, a forum for environmental policy. With an MA and PhD in Biology from Harvard and an accomplished record of field research, policy work and teaching, Peter brings an outstanding professional and educational background to his new work at PNCA.”

Schoonmaker’s long history as an advocate for responsible environmental policy has made him aware of the limits of science and policy. At Illahee, Schoonmaker instituted a well-known Lecture Series where each year visiting speakers, all distinguished in their fields, and 500 of Portland’s leaders and citizens, unite around a collaboratively chosen topic. Schoonmaker is eager to foster a similar spirit of collaboration at PNCA.

“Let’s face it,” Schoonmaker says, “science and policy are stuck with regard to many environmental and social challenges. We need help from art and design. We need to learn how to collaborate.”

The MFA in Collaborative Design is an interdisciplinary program that builds systems and solutions using visual thinking, design ecologies and other methodologies to tackle significant problems through collaboration. Many of today’s most devastating issues, the so-called “wicked problems,” are those whose ongoing impacts are seriously debilitating to the ecological and social viability of the planet and whose proposed solutions regularly either worsen the problems or create new ones in their place. Schoonmaker believes, and PNCA agrees, that graduates of the Collaborative Design program will be highly sought after by organizations in both the private and nonprofit sectors.

As Schoonmaker says, “It’s that rare program that has the opportunity to ask penetrating questions in a team setting, and to design solutions with community members. It’s brilliant in conception, and there’s nothing quite like it that I can find anywhere else. It’s unique and desperately needed.”

While serving as Chair of the MFA in Collaborative Design, Schoonmaker will maintain an active strategic role at Illahee that will strengthen the relationship between the two organizations, as well as Illahee’s ongoing collaborators. Illahee will continue, as it has since 1998, to provide a forum for environmental innovators through evidence-based, policy-relevant inquiry, but now with an additional partner in PNCA that will help translate inquiry into action.

In addition to more than a decade of significant work at Illahee, Schoonmaker has worked as Vice President of Interrain Pacific and as Science Director at Ecotrust, where he worked with community, business, academic and governmental sectors to develop and disseminate ecosystem and bioregional scale information. He has developed ecosystem-level research and monitoring programs for four large temperate rainforest watersheds. Schoonmaker has served as a board member of Vision PDX and Friends of Opal Creek, for which he also served as Board President. Having built connections to colleagues and to projects developed over the past twenty years in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, Schoonmaker brings a rich and diverse network of perspectives to the program.

As an engaging instructor, Schoonmaker has served as a teacher and mentor at Portland State University, Linfield College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Schoonmaker has also instructed graduate PNCA/Oregon College of Art and Craft students within the Entrepreneurial Studies course for the MFA in Applied Craft and Design.

“My teaching is driven by two things: incurable curiosity and an increasing urgency to get things done. I like to think that curiosity is a primary human driver, so I teach to my students’ curiosity and to my own,” Schoonmaker explains. “It’s a dream job: guiding a diverse set of students in an inquiry driven, entrepreneurial setting, to design civic solutions that make a difference.”

Decades with one foot in academia and the other in the community have resulted in impressive list of publications by the Willamette Restoration Initiative, Island Press and Columbia University Press among others, including recent publication of research on the changing nature of salmon production and management in the Northwest in Fisheries.

The MFA in Collaborative Design is a two-year, 60-credit program that draws on the city of Portland, Oregon as a learning lab for graduate students seeking expanded design practices that meaningfully address the emerging challenges of the 21st century. Students will work in interdisciplinary teams to assemble and maintain networks of people, places and artifacts, and engage in iterative design solutions as they respond to project briefs containing environmental, social and technological challenges. Teams will examine issues such as resource depletion, emerging technologies, climate change and global demographic shifts, engaging in dynamic design processes that take into account the concerns and needs of a diverse range of human and non-human stakeholders. “This is about preparing the kind of collaborative problem-solvers we’re going to need to make it through the 21st century with a sustainable and vibrant civilization,” said Schoonmaker.

About Pacific Northwest College of Art
Since its founding in 1909, Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) has been an active center for innovative art and design education. At PNCA students learn about the practice of creativity and then carry those lessons into their personal and professional lives. In addition to its nine Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, PNCA offers four graduate degrees under the auspices of its Ford Institute for Visual Education (FIVE): An MFA in Visual Studies, a Low-Residency MFA in Visual Studies, an MFA in Collaborative Design, as well as an MFA in Applied Craft and Design developed with the Oregon College of Art and Craft, the first inter-institutional degree of its kind in the US.

PNCA is actively involved in Portland’s cultural life through exhibitions and a vibrant public program of lectures and internationally recognized visiting artists, designers and creative thinkers. With the support of FIVE, the College has an operating partnership with the nationally acclaimed Museum of Contemporary Craft. For more information, visit

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