Design and Business: Together At Last

Take note: Ringling College of Art and Design offers a Bachelor of Arts in the Business of Art & Design.  In fact, they’re currently the only art and design college with a combined art and business program for undergraduates.

In 2008 college president Dr. Larry Thompson acted on the need to combine business and art under one roof. He brought Wanda Chaves to campus with the simple goal to “help students understand the business side of creative industries.” Since then the college’s unique program has taught students the immeasurable value gained from integrating art and business. Through courses, companies eagerly wanting to be a part of the program, and the resulting graduates employed in creative positions, there is proof that Thompson and Chaves have hit onto something successful. The school is leading the way, by building an environment where students acquire business skills in a creative context.

logoInnovative giants Hasbro, Microsoft Game Studio, Disney Imagineering, and Cirque du Soleil have each dedicated a year to give Ringling students real-life challenges and experiences that require combining their knowledge of the creative world with the real world of business. This coming fall Sesame Street and the Jim Henson Studio will take their turn.

Coursework is competitive with that at other business schools, and all faculty members are PhDs who have taught in other business programs. Yet the curriculum is balanced. It begins with one business class the first semester and builds to a total of 18 throughout the program, combined with studio and liberal arts classes. Accounting principles, managerial statistics, and marketing coexist with art history, drawing, math, and writing for designers. Specific business classes include Introduction to the Business of Fine Art, Leadership in Creative Environments, and Organizational and Management of Art and Design Businesses, providing students with the ability to explore a variety of career options.

As Wanda explained it to me, “students team up on projects across disciplines;” interior designers with animators, graphic designers and illustrators. One culminating experience is the Senior International Management class. When a Disney Imagineer came to campus students were challenged to design a resort or a mixed use retail and entertainment space. Design and business decisions affected every aspect of their projects. What role does location play in the experience? How do tourism and different cultural values affect the layout of a resort? How does design impact the experience? How do you successfully set up a business and manage people internationally? Students are taught to think strategically and incorporate newly gained business knowledge into the creative process.

The implications of this type of education are almost endless; internships and jobs follow graduation. But what I find most interesting are the students who now have the creativity and understanding of art and design, alongside the business skills and confidence to create their own opportunities. Whether working independently, for a museum, or as a creative asset in a large company these students have a more comprehensive – and complex – set of tools to bring along on their career paths.

Wanda Chaves said it best, ““Opportunities for our students are wide open.”  I hope students and other schools are taking note.

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