SCAD: The Savannah College of Art & Design
Poetter Hall, the first building acquired by Paula Wallace’s Savannah College of Art and Design, in 1979, has a magical feel: The redbrick towers of the 19th-century building preside over Savannah’s historic Madison Square, and its richly hued foyer is adorned with portraits that seem to follow visitors with their eyes. One half expects the soaring staircase to swivel across the room and reattach itself, awaiting certain young students of magic.
Beautifully restored by Wallace and her family, the former armory has gone through more than one transformation in the past 40 years, but it remains a SCAD touchstone. Once the university’s central administrative building, Poetter Hall is now the site of SCAD story, an immersive, four-dimensional (yes, 4D) multimedia experience that tells the marvelous tale of how Wallace grew a single crumbling building housing 71 art students into a world-renowned university of more than 55,000 enrollees on four locations spread over three continents.
SCAD’s success has been born out of a clear creative vision, a penchant for building relationships, a rigorous devotion to students and their futures, and old-fashioned hard work—a formula that continues to reap benefits for SCAD and its students. From the beginning, Wallace rejected the notion of the “starving artist” and set out to make sure that SCAD students turned their passions into professions. A 2018 SCAD survey found that an astounding 99 percent of 2017 graduates were employed, 92 percent of them in their chosen field.
“SCAD engages, enlightens and elevates creative careers,” says Wallace. “This achievement results from SCAD’s focused and intentional career preparation. Every aspect of university operations is designed with careers in mind. Students arrive with a dream and graduate with a career.”
The SCADstory exhibition recounts the university’s 40-year history and visits its additional locations—urban Atlanta; the French medieval village of Lacoste, with its perfectly preserved chateaux; and ultramodern Hong Kong. SCADstory also showcases the formidable skills of its students and alumni: It’s a collaboration of over 30 artists and designers from more than 25 SCAD degree programs, including themed entertainment, performing arts, graphic design, visual effects and animation.
SCAD offers over 100 degree programs, many of which are original to the university, and all of which have paid close attention to future employment for students. Through forging relationships with leaders in creative industries worldwide, the university discovers what companies are looking for now and in the future. Anticipating the explosion of interest in luxury items and consumer tech, SCAD was the first university to offer degrees in luxury and fashion management, service design and UX (user experience) design, a program that was developed in partnership with Google.
UX design is now one of SCAD’s fastest-growing avenues of study, attracting students from dozens of countries who learn software programming, market research and consumer behavior in order to foster seamless, productive interactions between people and products. Students are regularly recognized as innovators in the field, garnering respected industry prizes such as Red Dot Awards and European Product Design Awards.
UX students also participate in SCADpro, an innovative program in which the university partners with private sector firms, giving students a chance to tackle private sector projects.Students from a range of disciplines team up to work with industry leaders such as 3M, Capital One, Facebook, Instagram and other highly recognizable brands.
“We were both impressed and inspired by the range of product concepts SCAD students delivered—all of which were rooted in thorough user research and testing,” says Google design manager Mike Buzzard. “The amount of creativity, ambition, collaboration and overall enthusiasm was remarkable.”
FASHION AT SCAD
Another major connecting students with jobs is fashion, which generates an annual $2.5 trillion in economic activity worldwide. Though designs from SCAD’s fashion department alumni can be found on runways and in boutiques from Manhattan to Milan, fashion at SCAD focuses on the business side as well as the creative. Mentored by fashion insiders and a faculty that has worked with top fashion houses and brands, SCAD students receive an education that takes them from sketching ideas and learning about manufacturing technologies to launching a line and fashion marketing.
The program offers unparalleled resources. The SCAD Style Lab affords access to critiques by fashion luminaries such as Calvin Klein and Vivienne Westwood, and the SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film, on the Atlanta campus, is a hotbed of creativity. The annual SCAD Fashion Show makes headlines for both its stunning designs and its celebrity attendees.
“SCAD is an amazing university because it encourages students to design their own careers and express their own visions,” says Diane von Furstenberg, legendary designer and avid SCAD alumni employer. “It’s all about creating that cycle of empowerment.”
Many alumni from SCAD Fashion take their portfolios and technical mastery to top fashion houses like Jean Paul Gaultier and Opening Ceremony. Others, such as 2019 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist Christopher John Rogers, go on to dress icons and celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Lizzo. Designs by SCAD grads regularly earn praise in Vogue and WWD, and the Business of Fashion, an industry website, ranked the university’s luxury and fashion management program as the No. 1 overall fashion school in the U.S., as well as No. 1 for learning experience and educational value.
SCAD’s interior design program is another university strength. Thanks to its exceptional in-house design studio and coveted collaborations with Disney, NASA and Uber, it has made a list of Best Architecture and Design Schools from Design Intelligence, a site for industry professionals, a record-setting eight times in the last 13 years.
Little wonder that program grads go on to curate spaces for corporate and retail giants, as well as renowned design firms.
“SCAD prepared me for exactly what I’m doing,” interior design grad Cristina Pelaez, who now works for MKDA in New York, tells the school’s District newspaper. “Apart from the technical skills that I need in the studio, my time at SCAD also taught me the importance of professionalism and how to handle myself in the workplace.”
FILM AND TELEVISION
Georgia’s entertainment industry is poised to generate $10 billion in economic activity for the state in 2019, and it’s hard to overstate SCAD’s contribution to that figure. More than 3,000 SCAD alumni have had a hand in the production of hundreds of feature films and TV series filmed in the state—from Avengers: Infinity War to Netflix’s Stranger Things—and many producers, directors, screenwriters, sound editors, costume designers and actors go on to award-winning careers in Hollywood. In 2019 alone, more than 150 SCAD alumni worked on Oscar-winning films, including Best Picture winner Green Book, Best Animated Feature winner Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Best Documentary Feature Free Solo.
SCAD film and TV students often begin building their résumés on professional sets before they’ve graduated, but that’s only part of the university’s role as proving ground. For students interested in the art and craft of visual storytelling, SCAD has remarkable resources: state-of-the-art soundstages and film equipment, as well as a faculty roster that reads like the closing credits of a blockbuster movie.
Typical of the school’s focus on its students’ ability to find work after graduation, SCAD also offers film and TV students incredible networking opportunities. Every year the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, the largest university-run film festival in the world, imports industry pros to give master classes and rub elbows with students, and the creators and stars of TV’s most binge-worthy shows host panels and workshops at SCAD Atlanta’s aTVfest.
“Wherever you walk, you see SCAD,” said Hugh Jackman, a SCAD Legends of Cinema honoree at the 2018 Savannah Film Festival. “I think that place has got it right.
Tracking the rise in the ambition and frequency of animated films, SCAD’s animation department has become a pillar of student interest. Students are trained on the tools of the profession beginning with their first classes, in which they learn to master high-performance digital workstations, elite professional software, state-of-the-art motion capture systems and 3D printing technologies. In addition to working on projects for the Cartoon Network, Pixar and Disney, SCAD animators also create visual narratives for a wide variety of industries and firms, including the Georgia Ports Authority, bringing the far-flung talents of SCAD back to its origins.
“I give high-tech presentations all over the world, and I’m asked all the time, ‘Who creates this for you?’” says GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch. “The answer is always SCAD graduates. We want to work with the best, and we found the best right here in Savannah, at SCAD.”
Naturally, SCAD animation students had a huge hand in creating SCADstory, which is open to the public and has become one of Savannah’s most exciting new attractions. It’s an enchanting experience to learn about the history of this art experiment-turned-global university—and to know that while the magic of SCAD may start at Savannah and three other campuses, it has spread throughout the globe, brightening and inspiring the lives of millions.