It’s one thing to visit an artistic center when you’re in the middle of a big city.
It’s quite another to go to an exclusive luxury resort in the Dominican Republic and discover a totally unique artistic destination — and one with its own design school.
I’m talking about Chavón, The School of Design, which is affiliated with Parsons School of Design/The New School in Manhattan. This prestigious institution is located inside Casa de Campo, a 7,000-acre resort that is famous for its polo, golf and beach. My husband, Bill, and I were just there, taking in the sunshine, the spa and all of the restaurants. Right now, during this time of Covid, Casa de Campo and its luxury villas are an especially great escape as privacy is the new luxury.
But I digress. Within Casa de Campo’s sprawling acres, there is a fascinating little town called Altos de Chavón. It’s a replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village that was conceived by Dominican architect Jose Antonio Caro and Italian set designer Roberto Coppa, who closely supervised the construction, seeing to it that each stone was meticulously placed. It was Coppa’s design, but it was really the vision of Charles Bluhdorn, who was chairman of the now defunct Gulf and Western Industries Inc. (Gulf + Western) when the project began in 1976. Bluhdorn’s idea was to create a village along the lines of charming St. Paul de Vence, in the South of France. (I’ve been to St. Paul de Vence, and it’s a stunner.)
It is in Altos de Chavón that you’ll find Chavón, The School of Design. Bluhdorn’s daughter, Dominique, initiated the Altos de Chavón art project, and the school became a Latin-American affiliate of Parsons School of Design in 1983. Here’s students can come and learn all about fashion (including a choice of fashion design or fashion marketing and communications), fine arts, film, interior design and visual communications. Graduates of Chavón’s two-year college-level program have the option to continue their studies in New York for two more years, earning a bachelors of fine arts (B.F.A.) degree from Parsons School of Design. Some classes are taught in Spanish, while others have an English translator. Chavón has graduated more than 2,000 students, whose placement in the national and international job market for designers has literally changed the face of art and design in the Dominican Republic.
“He was obsessed with the Dominican Republic and conceived Casa de Campo with (fashion designer) Oscar de la Renta,” Dominique said in a phone interview. She explained how Altos de Chavón was built to be an artistic community “where artists could live and work and showcase their talent.” She, in turn, created the Altos de Chavón Cultural Center Foundation.
“Our most important role is the school, to provide the highest quality of art and design education. It is one of the best film and design schools in the world.”
Indeed, the school has an artist-in-residence program that has attracted scores of bold-faced names. “We offer a rich assortment of designers to lecture and teach at the school,” she added.
Altos de Chavón is also home to a 5,000-seat amphitheater and Museum of Archaeology, with a stunning collection of art and artifacts from the island’s first inhabitants, the indigenous Tainos. The museum hosts visitors from the island and abroad and offers instruction in pre-columbian culture.
If you’re reading this article and love the arts, you may be interested in the school’s International Summer Program. “It’s the perfect creative hub,” Dominique told me, describing Altos as “ideal for corporate training in painting, landscape design, fashion design, fine arts, film and screenplay writing.” The courses typically go for two weeks. She added that the school offers continuing education and executive education to all kinds of businesses, as it sees training in art and design disciplines as a complement to broad-based creative thinking.
In Altos de Chavón, you will also be able to observe local artisans in the village’s three crafts workshops. The largest studio is dedicated to wheel-thrown and hand-built ceramic pieces that are both decorative and utilitarian. In the weaving studio, hand-loomed textiles are fabricated, and in the silkscreen workshop, artists can have prints made of their original works. Rounding out the experience, visitors can shop for locally made products, enjoy delectable dining (the Italian restaurant is outstanding) and attend festive entertainments. The town has more than 10 boutiques including Everett Designs, where you can find gorgeous, handcrafted jewelry set in amber, larimar and other precious and semiprecious stones. The designs will wow you.
Just one visit to Altos and you’re sure to fall under the spell of its irresistible charms.
For more, visit chavon.edu.do and for more about Debbi, follow her on Instagram at @Debbikickham.