Photo of Philadelphia School of Design building faded into current Moore College of Art & Design building

Standing in front of the bright and reflective façade at the corner of 20th and Race Streets, it is easy to feel as though Moore College of Art & Design has always been here, illuminating Logan Circle with the buzz of creative energy. Located at the physical (and metaphorical) intersection of so many institutions of art, science, and education, Moore just makes sense. 

"Moore has always been a place for game changers," says President Cathy Young. "The idea behind Moore may not seem so revolutionary now, when you think about how far we've come with representation in the creative fields. But the world still needs Moore. From its beginnings as the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, the very existence of the College has served as a challenge to the status quo, namely: If there is no opportunity for talented people of other genders, races and backgrounds, we will create that opportunity through education and career preparation. We will break down the barriers and those voices will be heard. That has been our continued promise."

The College has stood the test of time at 175 years old, yet Moore has endured not through static preservation but through the cultivation of constant inquiry and evolution, developing a rich field of ideas where students, faculty, staff and the wider alumni community continue to change the game. When Sarah Peter imagined a new kind of creative space for women, it was—and still is—like nothing else that had come before. After all these years, Peter's vision of building economic power for underrepresented artists and designers is still just as vital.

"When I think about the legacy of Moore, I think about persistence," says Chief Academic Officer Claudine Thomas, who's worked at Moore for nearly 20 years. "Persistence is the ability to continue moving forward regardless of obstacles. It is willpower and desire combined. It comes from a vision of the future that's so compelling, you would give almost anything to make it real."

In 1848, roles for women outside of the domestic sphere were just starting to gain traction, and the idea of equal participation in the world of industry would have seemed outlandish. It was a year when women were still fighting for voting rights, and for most activists, that fight applied to white women only. Moore’s early cohorts were not remarkable for their racial or ethnic diversity, but for the simple yet revolutionary idea of a room full of women, learning together.

As Moore has evolved, its legacy of providing pathways for underrepresented students has evolved, too. The College expanded to include BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) students in the first half of the 20th century, and Anna Russell Jones '24 became the first African American graduate, going on to an impressive career as an award-winning textile designer and medical illustrator. A century after Jones' graduation, 38% of Moore students identify as BIPOC, and the College has expanded its original admissions policy to include nonbinary and gender-nonconforming students, who comprised 26% of the 2023 incoming class. 

"We're an art and design college, which means at the center of students' work is their identity," as President Young points out. "And creating a space where they can be their authentic selves—because that is where their great creative work is going to come from—is mission central for Moore. The work of Moore students and alumni emerges from their unique experiences, identities and perspectives, and we celebrate that."

The College community continues to push forward, "fostering an environment where independence, creativity, risk-taking and grit are embedded in all that we do,” says Thomas. "It shows up in the curriculum, during a critique and in the creative work. Our students demonstrate a tenacity and persistence the moment they walk through our doors." 

"Our legacy speaks to the College’s ongoing mission," adds Creative & Critical Studies Professor Jonathan Wallis, "one built on support, acceptance and a commitment to a positive future for our students."

"The work of Moore students and alumni emerges from their unique experiences, identities and perspectives, and we celebrate that."

—Cathy Young, President, Moore College of Art & Design

Over the years, Moore graduates have shown that gender does not determine the limits of talent, leadership or vision, catalyzing change in creative industries across the board. And they are not done yet, moving on to new fields and technologies as they emerge. 

"Even though there have been great strides in increasing diversity and representation in the animation and game industries, it is still a cisgender male-dominated field," notes Stephen Wood, chair of Time/Motion Arts and Animation & Game Arts associate professor. "Moore's unique position in elevating the voices of underrepresented populations is still needed and will continue to be needed."

The new VAULT space at Moore is a response to this need, which opened to students in fall 2022. This state-of-the-art educational space features computer labs, animation and gaming studios, editing bays and a gaming lounge. Other big ideas are in the works, from complex design-focused capital projects that will transform public, communal and creative spaces at the College, to enhanced career resources through new cooperative partnerships. 

Looking back 175 years ago, it would have been easy to shrug off an educational setting for women as an upstart idea that wouldn’t last. Yet nearly two centuries later, Moore has provided a creative foundation to thousands of artists and designers who have invented new ways of clothing ourselves, designed whole worlds to explore, changed people’s minds through storytelling, experimented with new technologies, brought communities together around images and returned to the classroom as art educators, dedicated to nurturing future generations of artists and designers. The bright façade on Logan Circle still stands because the work of Moore continues to shine, in a world that still needs imagination and authenticity. Another century from now, the ideas that will appear obvious are the ones yet to be dreamed up. And where better to dream them than at Moore?

As Illustration Professor Richard Harrington notes: "There is nothing generic about Moore. In a world where the term 'artificial' is rapidly being applied to the creation of visual art, we emphasize the word 'authentic.'" 

Click to return to the Fall/Winter 2023 issue of Moore Magazine.