When Talents Come Together

Academy schools collaborate to create a float celebrating art and culture for the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade


An illustrated mock-up of the Academy’s float for this year’s Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade. Image courtesy of Bob Toy.

The cultural landscape of San Francisco has undergone many changes throughout the years, but one event has annually celebrated culture and diversity for 160 years. The Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade will once again welcome thousands of people on Saturday, Feb. 24, to San Francisco for one of the largest celebrations of Lunar New Year in the world.

As a place where people from around the globe come to study art, Academy of Art University is a proud supporter of the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade. This is the fifth year in a row that the Academy has created an elaborate float that unites students and instructors from across a variety of departments.

“The Academy always supports the community,” said Bob Toy, publications and special projects manager at the Academy and art director and concept designer of this year’s float. “Our students come from all different parts of the world. The float expresses the meaning of the parade and the talents of the students.”

The float, measuring 18-feet-long, is a huge undertaking, requiring months of preparation and assistance from faculty, staff and students from different departments to complete. This year, the Schools of Fine Art – Sculpture, Illustration, Acting, and Music Production & Sound Design for Visual Media collaborated to create the float, which is celebrating the Year of the Dog. 

Being a part of the parade has meant a lot to the students involved. Although the experience is unique for each student, one feeling they all share is the excitement of being involved in a celebration of inclusion, culture and art.


Karina Alterman stands next to the metal dog sculpture, based on her original prototype design, that will be a part of this year’s float. Photo by Bob Toy.

Idea generation

It all started with a sketch. Ideas for the float began to circulate after Chuck Pyle, director for the School of Illustration, gave his portfolio preparation and studio one students an assignment: To illustrate a dog whose breed originated in China. 

Pyle received 33 illustrations of Pekingese, Chow Chow, Shar-Pei, Pug, Chinese Crested and Shih Tzu dogs, each representing the unique style and talents of the students. Additionally, Pyle and other instructors, including Camille Lyons, Joko Budiono, Lisa Bennett and Executive Director of Painting & Printmaking Craig Nelson, also created dogs that will appear on this year’s float. 

The submitted illustrations were recreated into three-foot images, backed with foam board, that will be held by students from the School of Acting atop and along the float, while they dance and wave to the crowd lined up on the parade route. 

At the back of the float will sit Bennett’s empress pug, complete with a gown and ruffle with a bone in her lap.

Many of the students’ inspirations for their illustrated dogs came from their research on Chinese New Year, also known as the “Spring Festival.” Jazmin Guzman, a third-year illustration student, was inspired by the Chinese lantern, a common symbol of the two-week long celebration. Her gray Chinese Crested dog includes a red and yellow lantern hanging from its mouth.

Aside from being excited that her art will be displayed in front of thousands of people, Guzman said the collaboration process with other departments allows all of the students’ art to have an even greater impact. 

“It really shows that all art forms interlock,” she said. “When you bring it all together, that’s when people really realize what an impact art can have.” 

Another illustration student, Allison Smith, agreed with Guzman. “It’s a way to show people what we’re made of,” she said.

Talking with Smith, it was clear how much she gained from the experience, not just in practicing her skills, but how the project encouraged her professionally. 

“To be in the parade is absolutely incredible. It’s surreal,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s been a big confidence booster for me and has inspired me to show off my work more. The whole experience has been an excellent way to get a sense of being in the industry.”


The metal frame dog was welded by students in David Sekoll's metal fabrication class. Photo by Bob Toy.

Welding the main sculpture

Sitting at the front of the float will be the eight-foot-by-eight-foot metal frame dog created by students of David Sekoll’s metal fabrication class, which began as a five-inch prototype. 

The energy was palpable in Sekoll’s class last fall on the day the dog was completed. Students worked together designing, welding, metal bending and fabricating the dog for about three months. 

Every student created a small prototype, however it was Karina Alterman’s design that was chosen to be the centerpiece of the float. Alterman, with a torch in her hand and wearing a pair of Carhartt overalls, dropped down her welding mask to weld the final piece of metal on the dog. 

“Seeing it in its completion is so awesome,” said Alterman, a senior illustration student. “The teamwork has been so great. It’s the best group project I’ve ever worked on, and I’m really honored to be a part of it.”

She also said the welding, something she had never done before, brought out a new side of her. “I feel like such a badass. We need more female welders, that’s for sure.”


Yan Li and Tingting Yu work on metal bending for the sculpture. Photo by Bob Toy.


Metal fabrication instructor David Sekoll (center) observes his students’ work on the metal dog sculpture for the Academy’s float. Photo by Bob Toy.

For the Chinese students in the class, the project hit home. Xueyang Wu, a first-year sculpture student, usually celebrates the Spring Festival with her family in China. Since she won’t make it home this year, contributing to the float has meant a lot to her. 

“It’s been really important to me as an international student from China,” she said. “I am proud to be represented in the parade and so excited. This is the first time I’ve ever been a part of such a big project like this. It’s really rewarding.” 

During the final day of welding, it was evident how close the students had become. The class ended with students working together to move the oversize sculpture through the classroom door. Before it’s placed on the float, the metal frame dog will be adorned with shiny gold ribbon, to emulate a coat of long fur, complete with a big red tongue sticking out of its mouth.


Academy of Art University School of Music Production & Sound Design for Visual Media student Jia Shi. Photo by Bob Toy.

Creating the sounds of celebration

Tying the entire project together is the music for the float. Spectators’ ears will be filled with upbeat, energetic sounds from the float as it passes by. 

This is the second year School of Music Production & Sound Design for Visual Media student Jia Shi has composed music for the float. She was inspired by the festivities and happiness of Chinese New Year using traditional Chinese instruments in her composition. 

“Chinese New Year, in my mind, is usually red, a kind of happy red, that stands for booming prosperity,” she said. “That is what my music is trying to express, a festive New Year, a bunch of happy dogs and a busy celebration.” 

The Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade has been named one of the top 10 parades in the world by the international festival and events association. The parade will be an extravagant event with over 100 vendors, 150 schools and organizations participating in the parade and a crowd favorite, the 268-foot Golden Dragon that takes more than 180 people to hold it. 

The parade will be held on Saturday, Feb. 24, from 5:15 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. For more information and to reserve bleacher tickets, head to

Watch a live broadcast of the parade on KTVU Fox 2 and KNTSF 26, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m.