Good News From The Motor City

The headline everywhere is the same: Once the fourth largest city in the country, Detroit has now filed for bankruptcy. In 1950 this thriving hub of the auto industry had a population close to 2 million; now it’s truly a shadow of its former self, with just 700,000 calling it home. And worst of all, to pay for its debts the city is considering selling artwork from its beloved art museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts. Nothing like ripping your heart out.

Yet I’m here to tell you there is good news in the Motor City. Midtown and downtown are in the midst of a revival, with 90% occupancy from new start-ups and those who want to restore and refurbish this fabulous metropolis.  And in the heart of it sits the Cultural District with the Motown Museum, Detroit Public Library, Science Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, and of course, the College for Creative Studies, (CCS) a non-profit, accredited, private art college of 1300 students.

Painting Studio (courtesy of CCS)I attended an open house information session at CCS last week, toured the campus, and felt I received an accurate impression of the college that in 2007 Bloomberg Business Week named among the top design schools in the world.

The college is split between two campuses – the Ford campus focuses primarily on fine arts and crafts, while the Taubman Center focuses on design. 12 undergraduate majors are offered, with a wealth of infrastructure to enable a strong basic understanding as well as encourage wide exploration in any discipline. CCS understands that college years are an investment in time and money. They support student and family investments with top-notch facilities and equipment. Tom Madden, Chair and Associate Professor in the Crafts Department, calls them “extraordinary.” I agree.

transportation studio close up 2Walking through the school I felt its mission statement come to life. They’re not teaching just art and design here. They’re teaching a path to a future career, with all the tools necessary to get there. Tools include a new way to communicate; by expressing and portraying ideas through art, whether a beautifully handcrafted wood sculpture or a flashy ad selling the hottest new shoe design. “Art is about language,” explained Robert Schefman, Chair and Associate Professor in the Foundation Department. “Our ideas are written down by drawing.” Those ideas are expressed through the illustration of a graphic novel, the line of a new car, or the interior design of a new restaurant. Additional tools include 42 credits of liberal arts classes, plus business lessons and a comprehensive understanding of how to show and sell your artwork in today’s digital world.

Students have the opportunity to live on or off campus throughout their four years. I climbed the steps to a fifth floor suite in the Art Centre Building on the Ford campus. (Easy to do when you’re young!) The apartment style set-up has two large bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room, large dining room, and a full kitchen. I liked the sunlit spaciousness of it, but felt the carpet could have used an update.

AudioEditing courtesy of CCSPre-College courses are available in numerous formats for those wanting to get a head start on their college education. And once enrolled as an undergraduate, Career Services provides an abundance of internship and networking opportunities. The sticker price for admission is $34,320, but CCS loudly claims that 98% of students receive financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants or loans. The message: don’t let sticker shock let you gloss over this school.

The day’s tour guides all wore bright green t-shirts proudly claiming, “CCS: Art lives in this city.” They’re so right. There is much more to share about this remarkable college – much more than just one post’s worth. For now, my suggestion is simple: go see it for yourself.  You’ll like what you see.

(Top and bottom photos courtesy of CCS)

Welcome Week

Compass Rose nsew bw.inddI’m going to guess that few college-bound students find a need for a compass these days, even if it is available as an app at the iPhone store. Good thing colleges provide their own directional tool; it’s called orientation. This real-life app guides parents and students as they travel to the new and often, uncharted territory that is college.

Orientation days on a college campus are a bundle of nerves. Uneasy ones can range from “what will my roommate really be like?” to “what if I can’t make it here?” and everything in between. Thrilling ones focus on the adventure of it all, life beyond high school, and – let’s face it, the most common one – “I’m so ready to live without mom and dad.”  Sorry parents.

Each campus holds its own unique orientation experience. Some early in the summer, some right before school begins in the fall. Some last a few days, others an entire week. Whichever way your college rolls, once you step foot on campus your time will be jammed full of information and connectedness. It’s an introduction to programs, services and people that will surround you over the next four years of your life.

The purpose is simple; set everyone’s mind at ease and engage students with this new place called “home.” For moms and dads it’s an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what life will be like for your child over the next four years. Tours and information sessions provide parents with peace of mind about residential living, available health services, access to professors and administrators, and how students will grow artistically and academically during their time on campus. Parents meet faculty and staff, tour the city around them, and share stories with other restless parents.

SAIC Dining Hall

SAIC Dining Hall

Students get the better end of the deal. They learn about resources and services available to them, in creative and engaging ways. Through workshops and ridiculously fun social activities that no one thought of when I was in college, students become acquainted with their new living environment and begin building friendships that will last a lifetime.

Information sessions are typically led by upperclassmen who were freshmen themselves just one or two short years ago. As peer, residential, and department advisors they introduce students to staff and administrators while disseminating valuable information about academic policies, course registration, and the slew of activities, clubs and organizations on campus. They openly discuss the stresses associated with living away from home – often for the first time – and provide freshmen with tips and resources to help with the adjustment.

Orientation workshops and meetings provide assurance as they educate students about the vast array of services and resources available including student health and counseling, financial aid, and career and professional development services. The pool parties, karaoke nights, competitions, field trips and campus-wide events help make the adjustment that much more fun.

Pre-orientation programs get the ball rolling even sooner. Designed to create connections and build friendships even before stepping foot on campus, they provide opportunities to hike, backpack, canoe or even surf (seriously!) your way to memorable experiences and new friendships, all in the name of engaging you with your new home.

Creating Working Artists

otis dot eduOTIS College of Art and Design is one of those small gems tucked into a corner of the thriving metropolis that is Los Angeles.  I visited the Elaine & Bram Goldsmith Campus last month, and basked in its creativity and warmth.  It’s a small campus – packed with vitality and vision.

An independent school of art and design, OTIS offers BFA degrees in eleven majors – with most classes taking place in the seven-story “cube,” the striking Kathleen Ahmanson Hall.  Initially built as the headquarters for IBM Aerospace in the early 1960’s the space has been completely renovated into working studios as classroom space.  The result: spacious, collaborative and noisy (in the good way) working environments.  Each floor is dedicated to a different department.  Artwork from the different disciplines lines the walls of each floor.  If you can’t remember which floor you’re on, just look at the wall art.  Seriously!  Upperclassmen have their own desks.

freshmen drawing class - large 2About 1200 attend the school – including grad students – which provides lots of opportunity for one-on-one time with professors.  Brooke Randolph, Assistant Dean of Admissions explained that students don’t need to declare a major until sophomore year.  In fact she said, “the first year here is dedicated to foundation classes, giving students the time and chance to explore.”  A Foundation Forward course is even available to help identify the right major.

The school’s nurturing emphasis is pervasive.  The First Year Experience (FYE) program kicks into full gear even before you step on campus.  With the goal of ensuring a fun and successful transition to college life, there are upper class peer mentors to guide you, “O” orientation week, and FYE experiences that extend into your classes.

Each major has its own distinct curriculum which could lead to an insular single-minded frame of reference.  Not possible; OTIS’s goal is to create working artists, and to give you a real-world education.  So, all students are required to take part in the Creative Action program, an integrated team-building experience where you’ll rely on the varied strengths of your peers in multiple majors to resolve problems for real institutions and businesses.  Experiences have included building a sensory garden for the Junior Blind with a xylophone wall of different sounds for each room, and a trip to China to help the world’s largest wooden toy company move to more sustainable materials.

Clearly, this is not a typical college in a number of ways.  Physically it occupies a large block in the hubbub of the city, near to beaches, the airport, and affluent west side communities.  Housing is provided for all first year students (freshmen or transfers) in a luxury apartment building a short 10-minute walk from campus. (Nice!)  A website offers resources for upper classmen to locate nearby apartments.  Parking is free and available for all students.

I have to say, my only frustration with OTIS was in trying to find information on their website.  But according to Brooke a new site is coming soon.

Want to learn more about the creative environment of Los Angeles and how it pertains to OTIS graduates?  Read OTIS’ 2012 Report on the Creative Economy.

Postscript: I won’t be blogging next week, but watch for a post I’m researching about the business aspects of being an artist.  Also, if there are any other specific topics you’d like to read about please let me know.