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Saturday, June 21, 2008

An open letter to the Art Center Board of Trustees

We want to thank the Board for the work they are putting in for the future of Art Center. The time you are are taking to deliberate is important at this critical time in the college's history. We would like you to consider the following as you discuss options for moving forward:

1) If you approve the status quo you will send the wrong message to the ACCD community and damage the reputation and viability of the school. There is a clear desire for change, both from inside and outside the institution. Those involved in the day to day education - students, faculty and staff - are clearly expressing a desire for a new direction. Those outside - alumni, donors, and employers - want the quality of the graduates to achieve higher excellence and the school to influence art and design far into the future. You must approve changes to the school's direction, or the community will directly question why the Board ignored this unprecedented outpouring of support for change.

2) The school must reorient itself towards inventing new approaches to 21st century art and design education. This must be the first priority, after which, expansion and new buildings can be considered in the context of these new modes of education. Certainly the existing facilities must be used to their fullest - the graduate programs should move to South Campus and the Ellwood building should be restored. But new development must follow educational goals, not the other way around.

3) Fund raising and the management of the budget must refocus on scholarships, recruitment, enhancing the classroom experience, developing new curriculum, and supporting faculty. The institutional emphasis on new construction has drained education and damaged the environment for instruction.

4) Art Center is an educational institution, not a for-profit business and not a monument on the hill. The hiring of a world class, experienced educational provost is of utmost importance. This educational leader must be independent and able to inspire, challenge, and leverage the incredible knowledge and commitment of the faculty and chairs. In addition, this person should be focused on education, and it may be advisable to split off some of the responsibilities that the CAO position has to a separate operational role.

5) Sustainability, design thinking, design research, social engagement, and an international perspective are all important, but the school needs to integrate them into actual education and college practices rather than simply talking about them or creating a few token activities for PR effect. The school should engage in meaningful ways or it will have no impact. In particular, the school should work with other educational institutions to build new best practices instead of operating in isolation. The best success is for the school to produce thoughtful practitioners for the future.

Thank you for your consideration.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well put Future of Art Center--I hope the Board hears this loud and clear!

Has anyone seen the letter the Chairs apparently sent to the LA Times? I don't receive the print copy and its not on-line that I can find.

-from a member of the faculty

Jason said...
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Anonymous said...

4)...."The hiring of a world class, experienced educational provost is of utmost importance. This educational leader must be independent and able to inspire, challenge, and leverage the incredible knowledge and commitment of the faculty and chairs..."

This is a really key area that needs to be fleshed-out. If you have a great educational strategist and that person reports to a CEO who has no real academic background, then you are looking for trouble. If you have them report directly to the board, then good luck trying to find a CEO that will take the job, as they will be competing with that person on a daily basis, and that is counter-productive.

A CEO with "academic chops" is needed. A CEO that knows how to not only see educational vision, but fiscal vision.

Anonymous said...

Jason Hill wrote:

"I think of Art Center as a business, mainly because the endowment has grown so little in the past 70+ years indicates that it did not have the same priorities as a educational institution."

It IS a business. Every educational institution is. It may not be a for-profit entity, but each business must make some profit in order to survive. In other words, if you run it at a loss, the school will not survive long-term.

Art Center has a dilemma that is tough to solve. Being that donations from alumni are the main sources of any endowment fund, Art Center has a severely limited alumni pool. It is a small school. In contrast, Ohio State Univeristy graduates more alums each semester than Art Center has in total living alumni.

So, that leaves you with three basic paths to potentially follow in search of fiscal health:

1) Existing alumni need to give more. History has shown that alumni do not feel a atrong connection to the institution itself. Not their own educational experience, but they do not often feel that a dollar donated to Art Center is a dollar well spent..

2) Corporations need to be wooed. Only corporations or charitable foundations can fund what the alumni are not capable of funding.

3) Expenses need to be cut.
Art Center has the basic financials of a school that is very fortunate to be afloat right now. They do not operate on a "spend every dollar as if it were your own" mantra. Art Center is not tight-fisted with money as far as spending it on PR-realted operations and public image.

Now remember this... If you really wish for Art Center to get back to focusing on basics and "education first", you'll all have to get comfortable with seeing cheap chairs in the library and such. Will Art Center be able to let go of its ego and put itself on a real budget? Right now, Art Center is a spoiled child that gets to drive a fancy car to school. As opposed to driving a beemer, you might have to get comfortable with seeing your alma mater driving a used Honda Civic. Can you handle this?

Anonymous said...

Back to this whole architecture discussion. I just remembered a professional experience of mine, and it has an application here.

I was doing a package design and wanted to create something very unique. So I envisioned hiring a "semi-famous" illustrator I had long admired. ...In this day and age of stock photography, illustration, etc, many of you will find these oppotunities to be dwindling as budgetary pressures trump real creativity...

His work was perfect for my project (or so I thought). I even convinced the client to let me explore this idea and to let his work speak for itself. The illustrator allowed me to do mock-ups using his past work. And the client LOVED the resulting comp work.

But then it came down to budget, and the client was not convinced that net sales would even support spending the fee that the illustrator wanted. I held my ground, insisting that this was how great products were made. The client balked and I left the situation thinking that he was just another dull idiot who wanted bland crap.

In reality, I never listened to my client's needs. My love of great design did not trump his actual needs.

I suppose some designers can position themselves to only work with "enlightened" clients, but I've been around long enough to know that in more cases than not, this attitude leads to more economic failure than success. I know more than a few former Art Center "stars" who now have businesses selling "pre-packaged" template websites to clients with limited budgets. In today's economy, most clients have what we'd call a "limited budget", at least outside of NYC, L.A. and San Francisco.

Do not let ego paint you into a corner that you can't get out of. It's just design. Do a good job of it. Even an excellent job of it.

Message to the board is: You can do good design without breaking the bank. You can carry a school forward without doubling the square footage too.

Jason said...
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thirdgen89 said...

Everything that ACCD teaches is business oriented. They all are client focused and people need to learn the balance between doing what you envision and what the client needs/wants. I think a business and entrepreurship class should be manadatory for certain programs. Also, people should do a sales job that does not involve design in anyway to learn how this relationship works. This is critical to one's success.

I addressed the cost of tuition to average payscale issue on the ACCD forum. Kit Barron responded and i will be speaking with her about this. I am in this predicatment because the debt load when I get out cannot reasonably be paid with what my income will be for the first 5 years or so. The math simply doesn't add up without additional scholarships or reducing the tuition. Especially when the same money will get me a Law or Medical degree that has a much higher payscale and can be justified.
It isn't about the money, but it is about the money. Design is what I want to do. I cannot see being happy doing design after Art Center if I cannot live a life afterward and enjoy the fruits of my labor. I will be living in my parents basement and sending my entire paychecks to pay student loans for 10-15 years.

Anonymous said...

ThirdGen:

You have great insights. Being entrepreneurial in your thinking is perhaps mandatory for an ACCD student coming out with that kind of debt. A typical paycheck is not going to be enough. You have to think about how you can apply your newly found skills in a manner in which you can capitalize more efficiently.

In my own situation, my debt load was about half of what most of you will face, yet it was still alarmingly high. As a result, I took jobs strictly for the money and not as part of my own career path. If this ends up happening to you guys, then pray that you really like the jobs you take.

thirdgen89 said...

Anon-

That is my biggest fear. Getting this education doing what i have a passion for but not being able to do so and having to do the same jobs I have been always doing that prompted me to want to change careers to avoid drowninig financially.

I would need to make $175K right out of school to realistically payoff the loans within 15 years. Find me one person who graduated from ACCD and went right to that income level?

I am thinking about after I graduate before I even start.

Anonymous said...

I never thought about "after I graduate". I just prayed and had faith that it would work out. I was simply enamored with Art Center from the day I set foot there. I just HAD to go there. Perhaps if the place were not so cool and sleek (the architecture), I might have sat down and actually evaluated the pros and cons.

On the day I signed my loan papers, the financial aid lady looked at me and asked if I was going to read any of the contracts before I signed them. I replied "Well, are you going to give me the money if I don't sign?". She said no, and I said "I don't need to read it".

Fortunately, things did work out. My entry into the workforce was at the beginning of a long economic upswing. My loan payments were a serious annoyance at first, but eventually they were just another bill.

But my loan amounts were less than HALF of what I'm hearing you guys talk about on these blogs (and I was maxed-out on the existing loans). BUT, my starting salary was about what new grads are making NOW. There is no way I could have earned that same amount yet paid double the loan payment. No way.

Back in my time, Art Center really was the pinnacle of where one could take their student career (for what I do). But now, I must admit, I would be looking at more cost-efficient options. Not that I did not LOVE Art Center. I did. But in the past 20 years, personal computers have brought a LOT more "designers" to the market. This does two things:

1) Makes it easier for an "ACCD-type" grad to "stand out" against the available selection of people

2) But with the flood of new designers (even the bad ones), comes a saturated market. It might be easier for a "good" designer to "get" a job, but all those millions of "bad" designers (unfortunately) drove down the going rate for design pay.

Net: You'll be considered a fantastic designer, but the pay will kinda suck. And that's design economics 101. Class dismissed.

Anonymous said...

The influx of commercials from those schools on day time TV are directing their focus on graphic design lately. While I know that the difference in the education from Art Center vs. them is tremendous, this does indeed make the price for a pro worth less because there is always someone who will work for cheaper. MUCH cheaper. Some companies care, some don't. People with a $10/hr mindset is going to say DeVry, getting a certificate and selling their time for $11/hr. Why pay more?

If the monetary value of a professional designer is diminishing, then why does it keep getting more expensive to become one?

Anonymous said...

The perceived value of DESIGN is diminishing. Perhaps not in the eyes of a hard-core typography theorist, or one who sits in a position to hire famous architects, but in the eyes of "most" who might hire us. Much of design has become a commodity. It never used to be this way.

These TV advertising "art institutes" attract masses who think that $15 per hour is worth plunking down $30,000 to attain. They graduate from their ridiculous programs and then flood the market with their lowered financial expectations.

This is the kind of stuff that Art Center must figure out how to prepare its grads for. It either needs to choose making the "absolute best of the best" specialist grads, or it needs to figure out how to successfully train well-rounded people who are well-equipped to earn a living in this current design economy.

Every one of you should be begging to take Erol Gerson's class. Take good notes. He's one of the biggest educational assets at Art Center today, and he is not even a designer.

Anonymous said...

The discussions on this blog and Nathan's blog PROVE that design is being diminished since virtually everyone here diminishes the value of a well designed environment, i.e., architecture.

If you are willing to say, Let's cheap-out on our physical resources by putting up temporary shed, getting a non-architect (i.e., contractor-build), or some corporate firm, how can you make an argument as yourselves as "designers" over, say, some Academy of Art grad or some unschooled guy with a computer? At least architects have to go through licensing and are liable for safety and compliance with building codes.

Go ahead, how do you justify asking a client for the big bucks? Just because you will have degree from Art Center and call yourself a "designer"?

You don't really believe in "design" as something that's of value, do you?

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:21 -

An a degree in architechture costs about the same as an Art Center degree.

This tells me art center is incredibly overpriced. I would not need a license to do an illustration for a product box or have to worry about safety reg's for designing a magazine cover.

This entire industry is being watered down by technology. I know someone who is a web designer for many years and used to get $60/hr plus billable. With all these cheap schools poppuing up and affordable software, people are balking when she bills even at $30/hr.

Nobody values design when photoshop is rather inexpensive, there are shelves of design how-to books and DIY templates from people overseas creating them for pennies.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:21 asks:

"how can you make an argument as yourselves as "designers" over, say, some Academy of Art grad or some unschooled guy with a computer?"

I'm not sure that I CAN. Do you know why? Because the majority of "mainstream" design clients will look at two portfolios/design choices, and while they may "like" the Art Center choice better, they certainly will not pay a premium to have that option.

There is so much existing "pre-designed" design out in the world today, it is being gobbled-up by the small-to-medium business community. That leaves the "big-brands" and the big brands typically utilize more established agencies in larger markets.

And plenty of motivated/talented people with computers (and no formal educations) are today outearning us Art Center alumni. More are not. I know that having gone to ACCD has helped my odds, mainly due to what I learned there.

Anon 12:21 also asks:

"Go ahead, how do you justify asking a client for the big bucks?"

I know that I went to school with some astonishingly talented people who "can" ask for the bigger dollars (and they get them). These people quickly establish solid reputations and much of that high-priced work comes to THEM.

The top 5% of the talent will attract the top 5% of the people willing to pay more to have them consistently. Everyone else is just trying to get paid. Regular folks.

Art Center has two basic choices facing it:

1) Train just the "Best of the Best" and only accept those who show such promise. This is a smaller potential pool of people.

or

2) Train entreprenurial designers who know how to make THEMSELVES relevent in the marketplace and are capable of marketing themselves. This is a larger pool of people.

Future of Art Center said...

12:21 says "This entire industry is being watered down by technology. I know someone who is a web designer for many years and used to get $60/hr plus billable. With all these cheap schools poppuing up and affordable software, people are balking when she bills even at $30/hr. "

Wow, I don't know what clients you friend is working with, but if anything, I see prices going up for my friends. More broadly, the trends I see is for designers (of all types) who operate at a higher concept level are higher paid and more important than ever. Powerful concepting and design leadership are some of the things Art Center needs to get better at.

Also, let's not forget that Art Center has degrees in Fine Art, Photography, Illustration, Transportation, Advertising, Environmental, and Film, plus the graduate programs. So let's make sure our discussion is not just focused on Graphic and Product Design!

Anonymous said...

trans and product design is all the upper education people here care about! where are all those trans people going to go now that detroit is in the dumps? suvs aren't paying the salaries anymore. the economy is in the trash, and salaries will be going down for everyone.

Jason said...
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Jason said...
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Bambi said...

Jason,

Your frustration is well founded. Designers ARE their own worst enemy at times. On things like "logo contests" (don't participate) and internships (you should get paid), I agree that we should all stand our ground and not cave on price, etc. I once exited a job interview process after being asked to do a take-home project (for free). There is no shortage of people out there who want design, but want it on the cheap. The sad fact is: "Most" people do not truly value design. A precious few think of it as invaluable.

Rather than try to understand things by taking a sales or marketing class, the biggest lesson every Art Center student needs is some schooling in economics. The principles of supply and demand.

I am of course speaking of design in a very narrow way (meaning my own career experiences). I was not an ID student, and happened to study communications design. There is no shortage of people like me out in the marketplace today. I've seen the marketplace from different angles. Different geographical markets, different economies, different years, different market categories, etc.

The best book you can read right now is "Who moved my cheese", because it will make you more aware of how "change" will have its way with you over the course of your career. Right now, Art center is molding your view of the existing world and how you think it should be. Then you'll get into the working world and you'll experience it long term. The time you spend at Art Center is a mere "blur".

The facts are that there are economic pressures out there that will trump your "awesomeness" as a designer at some point in life. And Art center education is no "shield" from these pressures. It may improve your long-term odds of staying in the field. I think it has in my case.

thirdgen89 said...

Jason-

Here is the problem.

Supply + demand = price

Just because one goes to Art Center, does not mean you are automatically allowed to charge a premium. The market dictates what one can charge for their services. When one becomes highly sought after, then the demand is there and some can charge whatever they want. This is rare in our industry made up of hundreds of thousands of people scrambling for the same pieces of the pie.

Since these certificate mills are turning out designers by the dozens, this only makes our positions as serious designers seen as a commodity. Some people recognize the value of a good designer, but many do not or do not care. "I just need a logo and a brochure that I will use for the next 15 years, so I want it as cheap as possible" instead of looking at it as an investment in their brand. You can tell automatically the companies that invested in their design image.

Or "I just bought my kid a new laptop and it has photoshop on it and I can just have them make me everything for free".

I am sure Art Center positions their students to be above these pseudo-designers. Our current economy dictates that design is not an immediate necessity for survival, so it is one of the first things put on the back burner.

I have many years in sales and marketing and believe ALL designers should go through classes for this.

As for the web designer I referenced, she is not an ACCD grad but experienced none-the-less. Her rates are being whittled down by the market demand. We all want to do the high end stuff. This what we dream of when thinking about being a designer. It takes wearing many hats to do this, which I think many creatives either refuse to or cannot do.

But not all of them...

Bambi said...

Jason,

Let us use the oil market as an illustrative example:

The Saudis have most of the world's oil supply. Their oil is actually highly sulfuric, and results in really "crappy" gasoline. IE, not the best oil.

We, in the United States, tend to have a better "quality" of domestic crude oil supply.

But the quality of the crude oil does not matter at all, really. Why? Because oil is a commodity, and it is sold within a world market. It does not matter that we in the U.S. can pump a far better quality of crude out of the ground. We have far less of an impact on the overall supply of crude oil (worldwide).

Why? Because the Saudis have it, and lots OF it. The massive totality of the Saudi supply means that the US can't charge twice as much for oil that is twice as good. It just means that our oil will get purchased first. We always know it will sell.

So, while you may come out of Art Center and be consistently employed (due to your hopefully awesome talent and skill), the amount of money you are offered will greatly depend on overall market pressures. There are a LOT of former truck drivers who changed careers in the last 5 years, and guess what they decided to pursue? Computer graphics!

If you have ever worked with a headhunter for a job search, you can see how the market has changed in the last 15 years. The dot.com boom boosted pay rates for almost everyone. Designers were badly needed. Many new schools took notice and capitalized on the opportunity to train people.

Now we're left with a glut of designers.

Try calling "Aquent" and tell them you went to Art Center. They'll offer you temp positions that pay $20-25 per hour. They'll make you feel lucky to even get called to work. They do not care that you are more awesome than the next guy. So long as you pass their photoshop test, you will work.

In contrast, 1o years ago, Aquent would have offered you $35-45 an hour for the same work. I am NOT kidding.

Bambi said...

Then, of course, you can set your goals on making your own way in the world, working for yourself, and being determined to win the game of economics. The most successful designers I know, are the ones who work for themselves and market some kind of product or service offering (not just "freelance" work).

Perhaps Erol Gerson should start offering a class in entrepreurship in addition to small biz management (another class you should ALL take)

thirdgen89 said...

Take Stefan Sagmiester for example.

Whether he likes it or not, he is now a brand name in the industry. He literally has to turn down work on a regular basis and can charge the big bucks.

I think that is the goal of many a designer...

I sure is mine!!

Bambi said...

I went to Art Center with lots of people with such high-goaled egos, but only 1-2 made it to that echelon. As a student, you do not neccessarily realize how much of this fame is really outside of your own control.

I once wanted to be a professional athlete. Didn't quite work out. When I turned to design, I did not set myself up for disappointment in that way.

thirdgen89 said...

Bambi-

It is a nice dream to have and you are right, most fame is beyond your control. It takes a stoke of luck or the right connection for something to just take off. There are some very talented people who work hard and some mediocre talent that just stumbled upon the right circles of influence.

Whether I become "famous" or not, millions of people will see my work. All over, every day, on the highway, etc. They will never know or will never care who did this piece, but that is enough for me.

All it takes is one campaign or design to gain notoriety.