A boardroom in Hangzhou, China was filled in November with presidents from the top 15 art and design schools from around the world and Denny Griffith, president of Columbus College of Art & Design, was among them.
“It was a little surreal when we got there,” Griffith said. “We all convened in a formal boardroom with interpreters and more than 50 reporters and photographers. It was invigorating for me to sit next to these people from around the world that I admire, and talk on a higher level about some of the philosophical challenges we face, as art and design colleges and universities.”
The leaders gathered as part of the International Art Presidents Network (IAPN), which launched four years ago by Tony Jones from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Xu Jiang from the China Academy of Art, and Pan Gongkai from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts.
The goal of the conference and committee meeting was to foster conversations about global best-practices and the changing nature of art and design students. Discussions circled around how colleges and universities must be nimble in managing change, especially when concerning the roles of media and technology.
“We talked a lot about experimentation as it relates to how we are handling change in our institutions and the pressures that are on our institutions to perform in the digital era,” Griffith said. “The root reason for gathering these presidents and college leaders together is that, from an art and design perspective, we really are a part of a global village. We are living in an age where multi-national corporations are hiring our students and they are looking at us to prepare them for both the cultural and business sectors.”
The 15 schools participating in the conference included California College of the Arts, California Institute of the Arts, China Academy of Art, China Central Academy of Fine Arts, College of Fine Arts UNSW, Columbus College of Art & Design, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts de Paris, The Glasgow School of Art, Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Royal Academy of Art in UK, School of Culture and Creative Expressions at Ambedkar University, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Tokyo University of the Arts, University of Art and Design Helsinki, and the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg.
Mutual Challenges, Opportunities
Although Griffith notes the similarities between these international institutions, it was also fascinating to him how wildly different the colleges and presidents were. Most of the institutions, outside of the United States, are completely subsidized by their governments. This creates drastically different goals from those who are tuition dependent.
“In some ways we were comparing apples to two-by-fours because of the economics of our institutions,” Griffith said. “Still the challenges and opportunities for us to learn from one another were exceptional. As colleges of art and design, whether we are in Ohio, Beijing, or Hamburg, we have these complicated relationships with the cultures we live in and the responsibilities we have to the students that we bring on board.”
“At this conference we were able to stop all the frantic work we do day after day and think about the nature of experimentation—and how to become the kind of places that nurture the kind of thinking and critical art process that helps generate the next cultural critics and also people who will bring significant contributions to today’s businesses,” Griffith continued.
Provocateur in a Creative Economy
Griffith said CCAD has duel and contrasting roles. On one side CCAD must be a provocateur, and on the other side it must fuel the creative economy and workforce. Both of these roles have to be congruent and work seamlessly together.
“The things CCAD is doing to infuse business education into our curriculum were really of interest to the colleges and other institutions,” Griffith said.
Often Griffith found himself talking to his colleagues about the need to not only have our students dream big dreams and set out and do visionary work, but they also need to spend time cultivating relationships to the students’ parents to help their kids become well-rounded citizens and have high employability.
“It became a real affirmation to me on all the things we, at CCAD, have going on,” Griffith said. “I remember thinking, after a very long day, that we are absolutely on the right track in terms of our focus on developing curriculum and hiring the best faculty. I feel really proud of our school and the people that are helping to progress it.”
To Griffith, simplifying the administrative structure by dividing into a two school format (School of Studio Arts and School of Design Arts) along with having a strong focus on business education will truly drive CCAD to function at a world-class level, and stand on a competitive edge with these schools from around the world.
“We are nimble, we are managing change as a team,” Griffith said. “I am so proud of our people here at the college, from staff to faculty and everyone in between. We have people that recognize that a lively, vital, progressive, powerful institution has to have many voices at the table that will work together and that is the exact culture we have going on here.”
Building the CCAD Network
Griffith was also able to explore museums and galleries during his time in China. He was able to see the Sun Dynasty scroll come to life as a series of animations, he witnessed an old power station become a contemporary art center, and saw mind blowing architecture that we, in Columbus, could only dream of having.
He was accompanied on these excursions by Leah Wong, who has taught at CCAD and is now assisting the college with a teaching exchange with the China Academy of Art. They visited and networked with local China art academies to help strengthen CCAD’s partnership with them and their students; hoping to strengthen the bond between global art and design schools and educational opportunities.
“Even with all the cultural differences and economic difference CCAD was like most everyone there,” Griffith said. “We are concerned about the success of our students and are balancing the ideal of being idea and also market driven. We are both a college and a crusader.”
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