…all these innovations and experiments…were simply the result of doing what we’ve always endeavored to do… : we listen to students, who are often strikingly in tune with the vibrations of tomorrow – signals the rest of of us are not calibrated to hear.
Paula Wallace. Memoir.
*referencing ‘firsts’ in integrating computers and technology with art and design
Have you ever been to Savannah?
After I became a school social worker, my first job included a ‘Fall Break’. Until then, I had never worked at a school with a Fall Break. If I remember correctly, the first I learned of this jewel of autumn goodness was the week prior: “…did you just say we don’t have school next week?”
This was fall of 2007.
Several years into working for the district, my birthday fell during Fall Break. Concurrently, a personal obsession with Food Network was happening: Paula, Ina, Giada. At the time, I most likely devoured magazines like Food and Wine. I was aware of a fun restaurant scene in Savannah and Charleston. A day’s drive from where my parents lived.
My mom and I took the trip two years in a row. As a new social worker, liberation and its ideals were in the forefront of my mind. I grew up in the midwest, outside of Chicago. I had lived and worked in both Southern California and now Denver, Colorado. Same but different. As we drove to Savannah, I noticed several plantations. I wondered about where we were going.
Have you ever been to Savannah?
There’s just something about Savannah…
We stayed for just one night in Savannah. I think we were in the Historic district and the goal was to eat at Paula Dean’s restaurant. This didn’t happen. At the time, the restaurant was a scene from a popular ride at Disney.
My memory is not clear on details of the Savannah trips. I mostly recall the squares, the trees, and the architecture of the homes and buildings that surrounded the squares. I was obsessed with Food Network, not HGTV. I don’t recall ever having much interest in architecture and design. I just knew it was beautiful in a way I could feel, but not describe.
A long early morning walk took me to the end of a park and to a coffeeshop. There was an energy, a buzz at this coffeeshop located at the opposite end of the tourist section. Same but different. This old, historic town was a collective of (what seemed) a mystic energy connected to the West Indies; a Southern charm transferring you to a different time; an alluring underbelly of drag queen expression and entertainment. I had watched the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and I also had a friend in Denver who told me how he had driven to Savannah to explore his sexuality as a young person growing up in the South. He wanted me to bring him a tshirt from his first drag bar. It happened to be near our hotel, but was closed when I found it (on the early morning walk I suppose).
Where. Was. I.
The first trip I must have spoken to someone at the coffeeshop. I learned about a school that interwove itself into the city’s historical preservation, as well as contributed to a palpable Art and Design influence. This subtle-but-not-subtle symmetry of old and new. This made sense.
The Savannah College of Art and Design.
The second trip my mom and I took a tour and learned more about how students from the college were integrated into the fabric, and evolving expression of this historic, eclectic, progressive, conservative, diverse, artistically styled Southern town.
I visited Savannah again on a summer ‘21 roadtrip. Summer ‘22 led me to what I shared in last week’s blog. Summer ‘22 included a stop at the SCAD bookstore and a purchase of The Bee and the Acorn, a memoir by Paula Wallace. Funny how I was initially inspired to visit Savannah by the Paula who fried chicken. Paula Wallace is the founder (she seems to refer to herself as ‘one’ of the founders) of SCAD. Paula has been the president of SCAD for the last twenty or so years.
SCAD is over 40 years in existence. Paula was a 29-year old elementary school teacher in Georgia when she imagined creating a school. She had been working in a school district that allowed her to organically inspire engagement for ‘gifted’ learners through creative hands-on opportunities. The way it was described in the book was she was given free reign to engage the ‘bored children’. Admin looked in the other direction as her alternate approach was effective. She worked at different schools during her time, creating what seemed to be a bit of a name for herself as it related to engaging children with high ability who might have been struggling in the traditional school environment. This was the South in the 70’s.
Reading the memoir, Paula seemed a pioneer of design thinking and project based learning. Paula wanted to give creative students a forward-focused education in their chosen field, and have the students graduate with career ready skills. She didn’t just want the painter to paint, she wanted the painter to know how to grow and/or be part of the industry to sell the paintings. Value for value.
Paula (seemed to) only know she wanted to start a college to grow creative tendencies in students and prepare them for creative careers that could grow and sustain themselves. She had no imaginings as to what SCAD is today: Visionary. Global. Leading. – not just a top rated Art school, SCAD is a top rated university with a collegiate sport program.
I was captivated by the book. Reading about one woman’s story – in a lifetime where the story is still unfolding. The momentum is palpable. Follow Paula Wallace on social media and you will see what I mean. Film fest. Museum. Fashion. The list goes on.
Aside from being mesmerized by Paula’s story, I was most intrigued by SCADpro. Okay, the historical preservation and the Lacoste property still have me wide-eyed and open-mouthed. SCADpro is where a variety of industry leaders come to SCAD and share their real-time problem that needs a real-time solution. The students go through a process to design effective solutions to the presented problem. The students are learning skillsets in real time that are applicable to what is relevant in varied industries. The students are often hired by the various industries.
Speaking of career, SCAD students (appear to) often collaborate their skills and talents with classmates to go on to grow grassroots businesses in a sustainable and honest way, that are also highly successful. The evolution of alumni success appears to have compounded the success of the college; the graduates have stayed connected and continue to contribute to the vision.
I have learned never to discount anyone, any moment, any opportunity. The most unlikely may prove the most defining.Paula Wallace
I felt the influence of SCAD over a decade ago on my visits. Savannah felt crowded the last few summers I visited. It’s a scene for sure.
I mostly feel many different feelings that all circle back to a woman who had an idea and brought it to life in a way where the results are observable, measurable, and really – mesmerizing.
‘All lessons are authentic, relevant, engaging.’ said the Jeffco school leader regarding the vision for the district.
What if each day was lived that way: authentic, relevant, engaging. I think underneath it all, this is what Paula did…and does, without attachment to outcomes. And yet, the outcomes have surely surpassed what was so beyond anything she could have imagined as a 29 year old school teacher who wanted to engage bored kids.
Here are a few more quotes from my dog-eared pages of The Bee and the Acorn:
‘We need to ensure students stay current with digital processes and contemporary movement in the industry…Please research all the most in-demand film and photo needs…and ensure we’re preparing students for these opportunities.’ – Paula sharing an example of how she leads by explaining what needs to be done and why…she says the ‘why’ keeps everyone flying forward, in the same direction, with faces pointed toward what’s next.
“Why did we succeed? Luck? Persistence? Stubbornness? Talent? Confidence? Training? Insanity? Here’s what I would posit. I believe that our endeavor succeeded because we fell in love with our work, because we had a genuine respect for each other’s talent, and a genuine interest in watching that talent develop.” – Paula reflecting on feeling connected to what John Malkovich said to SCAD graduates relevant to the success of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
one last thing…🤗