Helping Students Realize Their Visions Beyond The Walls of Gund Hall: Melissa Kaish GSD ’85 and Jon Dorfman Donate to the GSD

As the child of artists and an artist herself, Melissa Kaish GSD ’85 grew up with painters, musicians, and writers gathering at her home for creative discussions. For her, art and design are not bound by walls; these disciplines can—and should—spill into the public sphere for the community’s benefit.

With that value in mind, Kaish and her husband, Jon Dorfman, made a generous gift to the GSD, which will support a built project on Harvard’s campus through the School’s Art, Design, and the Public Domain (ADPD) program. Kaish’s main goal: promote the GSD’s creative work beyond the walls of Gund Hall.

“It’s really about developing the life of the arts throughout the campus,” said Kaish, who attended the GSD before earning her MBA from Columbia University. “I love the idea of a merit-based award that would enable students with the absolute best ideas to have an opportunity to implement them on campus, and that the Harvard community and beyond will benefit.”

Kaish’s inspiration came from past philanthropy with the School and The Harvard Campaign, which she said allowed the GSD to broaden its impact on the community. Kaish had provided a gift for the Philip Johnson Thesis House, supporting the vision of the space as a gathering place for designers. She and Dorfman became drawn to ADPD through “WE ALL,” a student design-build installation at the Grove in Boston’s North Allston neighborhood.

WE ALL, designed by Francisco Alarcon MDes ’18, Carla Ferrer Llorca MDes ’17, and Rudy Weissenberg MDes ’18, debuted in September 2017 at The Grove in Allston

WE ALL, designed by Francisco Alarcon MDes ’18, Carla Ferrer Llorca MDes ’17, and Rudy Weissenberg MDes ’18, debuted in September 2017 at The Grove in Allston

“What impresses us most about the School is the breadth of degree options and international studio options,” Dorfman said, pointing to the GSD’s increased global presence. “You can study design issues around the world, and I think that makes it very, very powerful.”

“The School is now much broader,” Kaish added. “It’s reached out to the university in different ways, such as technology, sustainability, and social equity. The new joint degree with the engineering school is a bold move. It is becoming increasingly important to integrate architecture with engineering and technology.”

As Kaish supports designers of the future, she is also exploring her own creative past through the Kaish Family Art Project and an upcoming book about her late mother. The project’s mission is to promote and exhibit the work of her parents, Luise and Morton Kaish. “I’m learning a lot about the art world I didn’t know, beyond my easel,” Kaish said with a laugh.

The far-reaching impact and evolution of her parents’ art mirrors what Kaish has observed and hopes to see continue at the GSD. “For me, I think, what opportunities are we giving to students to be able to realize their visions?” she said. “The idea is that the GSD will have an impact beyond itself.”

Melissa Kaish GSD ’85 and Jon Dorfman pictured in the Kaish family studio before a collage by Luise Kaish titled “Poet in Two Worlds.”

Melissa Kaish GSD ’85 and Jon Dorfman pictured in the Kaish family studio before a collage by Luise Kaish titled “Poet in Two Worlds.”

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