A NEXT Like No Other: Producing a year-end thesis and capstone exhibition virtually — and looking back on ten years of NEXT

March 29, 2021

A preview of this year’s NEXT banners (concept art by NEXT DesignLab), which will be hung on the Flagg Building in April 2021

A preview of this year’s NEXT banners (concept art by NEXT DesignLab), which will be hung on the Flagg Building in April 2021

By Bianca Trinidad, Class of 2021, BS in marketing and minor in journalism

Corcoran’s annual NEXT exhibition will launch this year on May 10, 2021. This year’s exhibition and year-end capstone events will take place virtually, reaching a new audience online at next.corcoran.gwu.edu, for the first time in its ten-year history.

Prior to the pandemic, NEXT was unveiled every April as a grand, innovative end-of-year thesis and capstone show that presented the latest contemporary work and scholarship for the GW and D.C. art community to see. Hundreds of visitors would have the chance to look at works in the fields of studio arts, art history, interior design, theater, dance, music, museum studies and more.

NEXT began in 2011 at the Corcoran College of Arts and Design, and after a decade, the Corcoran continues to celebrate the accomplishments of graduating students—both undergraduates and graduate students—and commits to showcasing emerging artists and contemporary works at the end of each school year. This year, NEXT is also an official bicentennial event celebrating GW’s 200th year.

Because this year’s event is taking place virtually, students are given this opportunity to create and present their works in different ways that would make sense for a screen. These presentations can take the form of research papers to photo essays to a series of paintings and more.

Hannah Jacobson is a dance senior at the Corcoran and is participating in this year’s NEXT exhibition. Her piece, “in her words” reflects the experiences of working women during the pandemic and the hardships they have and continue to face in a gender unequal world.

“It has definitely been a struggle working on the project from home, and it really wouldn't be possible without my wonderfully creative and competent dancers!” shared Jacobson. “I definitely miss being in a studio with my dancers and being able to really show the movement through my body instead of through my words.”

Like many students, Jacobson faced certain obstacles in transforming her project into a virtual presentation but found creative ways to work around them.

“The challenge in the virtual presentation really stems from technology access and that technology ultimately working when you need it too... Thankfully, that's why we have dress rehearsals!” said Jacobson. “[And] at the end of the day I think I have ended up enjoying film editing much more than I thought I was going to.”

Currently, there are over 130 students who have completed initial drafts of works and statements for their NEXT projects, with their final work planned to be submitted at the start of April. After the launch on May 10, 2021, the NEXT exhibition website will stay up for two years.

“I'm just excited to see everyone’s final project!” expressed Jacobson. “For those of us that are seniors … [NEXT] is our time to celebrate ourselves, each other, and the creative space we have shared with one another, whether it was virtual or in person.”


In March of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Corcoran was suddenly unable to host NEXT 2020 in person.

Maddie Goldstein, a recent graduate graphic design student at the Corcoran who was part of last year’s NEXT cohort, recalls her disappointment that NEXT couldn’t be in person. “But I’m excited that students this year will get to have some culminating NEXT even though it’s not the in-person event that they hoped for.”

This school year, students have been preparing for a digital presentation of their final projects. These works will be presented through a website and online performances and shows.

“It’s exciting to see how the students’ works will translate virtually,” said Emily Recko, another recent graduate and graphic design student at the Corcoran.

Both Recko and Goldstein worked on the branding of NEXT in previous years through DesignLab, a year-long class for graphic design students, and this year, they are working on creating promotional items for the event. Last year’s course was taught by Professor Matt Guastaferro.

Because of the NEXT 2020 cancellation, last year’s branding will be used for this spring’s exhibition across several digital platforms. 

“The brand that we developed last year is used this year,” explained Recko. “So, I look forward to seeing that translated across more platforms than we planned for last year.”

In addition, to honor the resilience of the class of 2020, a part of this year’s NEXT website will include a look back at what the class went through—with highlights of where the class is now, links to the works they produced during an unusual year, including radio plays, photo books to dance performances online.


Behind the branding of NEXT is a group of talented Corcoran graphic design students who were interviewed and chosen to be a part of DesignLab.

DesignLab is a year-long class composed of a selected group of graphic design upperclassmen who work on the entire process of researching, planning, creating and producing the logo and branding of NEXT.

“It was only open to upperclassmen graphic design students, and the purpose of that class was to brand the NEXT exhibition and the structure of it,” explained Recko. “The first semester was all about developing a concept and logo, and the spring was the execution.”

During the first semester, the class is divided up into teams in which they each create a concept and a logo. After a logo is chosen, in the spring, students work on carrying out the brand. This includes making the deliverables, brochures, banners, and everything with a logo on it, and all of this is in coordination with Corcoran’s exhibition team.

“The class gives students the opportunity to work on a creative team like they were in an agency environment,” said Goldstein. “So, it was a very practical thing—a great portfolio piece and hands-on experience.”

DesignLab was created in 2007 with the help of Maria Habib, a former alumna, previous director of design for the museum and college and currently a visiting professor at the Corcoran. 

“I was a student here, and then as director, I saw a perfect opportunity to share real live design experience with current students,” shared Habib. “The museum was right there, the college is here... There are so many active, contemporary projects happening all the time."

So, Habib in collaboration with Corcoran senior designer came up with the idea of DesignLab. 

“We crafted the plan for a pilot class… and started interviewing students at the end of their sophomore year,” explained Habib. “We started off small, but it worked out well and evolved.” 

While DesignLab was being brought to life, the larger institution also began to think about ways in which student work could be displayed, according to Habib. So, what came next was NEXT. 

“I was part of the conversations… where we decided to make this for the students, by the students, all of them purely,” said Habib. “And so [NEXT] came to life, and it has continued since.”

Read more about past NEXT exhibitions here.

And scroll through the gallery below to check out work from previous NEXT exhibitions.