Academy of Art University is Sustaining San Francisco with Design Ignites Change

April 27, 2009

Academy of Art University, the nation’s largest private art and design university has signed on to participate in Design Ignites Change, a collaboration of Adobe Youth Voices and Worldstudio, by producing Sustaining San Francisco, an interdepartmental series of projects aimed at improving the quality of life in the Bay Area. For Spring 2009, masters level classes in Graphic Design, Photo, Industrial Design, Furniture Design and Fashion Design are developing discipline-specific solutions to pressing local issues. The overall undertaking maintains an interdisciplinary element, with the diverse departments coming together to cross-pollinate process and directions, at points along the way. Working within categories of environmental impact particularly relevant to the San Francisco Bay Area, the university’s goal is to actually implement the projects, by partnering with area non-profit groups.

Susan Toland, who produces interdepartmental projects for Academy of Art University in partnership with outside groups and organizations, noticed more and more students were coming to the school with an interest in design’s potential to impact social and environmental change. Toland explains that Design Ignites Change felt like a natural partnership for the institution “…not only because the students’ interest was there, but because Design Ignites Change prepares them for work in the outside world. So much of art and design is working towards sustainability and social change; we think it’s terrific for our school to be in the forefront of this kind of work.” Academy of Art University’s teaching philosophy encourages practical, applied thinking and the ability to interpret and respond to complex content, helpful skills for a successful implementation of a Design Ignites Change project.

Leaders from Academy of Art University’s vast alumni pool have signed on to mentor the graduate students through creative critiques and collaborative brainstorming sessions. In the future, Academy of Art University will launch a high school mentoring component, that will likely operate in connection with the university’s high school scholarship program. This scholarship program has made it possible for thousands of area high school students to attend Academy of Art University classes over the past ten years.

In addition to sharing their processes and results on the Design Ignites Change website, Academy of Art University students will also design a traveling exhibition highlighting their learning experience. The first exhibit will debut at the Academy’s Spring Show on May 21 where more than 1,000 industry professionals will view it. The exhibition will also be on display in the school’s own downtown gallery space, as well as multiple sustainability-oriented exhibition spaces around San Francisco, providing broad visibility to the effort.

The Sustaining San Francisco traveling exhibition aims to bring the sustainability conversation beyond Art and Design seminars, to the general public. “At Academy of Art University, we believe it’s important to be an active part of a thriving arts community beyond campus. Design Ignites Change is a natural extension of that. It’s exciting to know that students are going to have their work shown on the website and be part of a community of schools across country who believe in the idea of design being able to bring good,” says Toland.

Envisioned as a three-year undertaking at minimum, Academy of Art University plans to roll out the Design Ignites Change program into all departments of the school.