Art School's Canvas of Success and Controversy
Savannah College of Art and Design aims to give students a palette of skills
A crumbling power station and an armory building with turrets are not usually considered sought-after real estate. But to Richard and Paula Rowan, proprietors of one of the largest fine arts schools in the country, they are the stuff of which a campus is made.Skip to next paragraph
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The Rowans, ambitious educators from Atlanta, launched the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) almost 20 years ago. Today, the campus includes the armory, power station, and 45 other buildings, many that have been restored.
They chose Savannah, Ga., they say, because it is a "beautiful, old city with tremendous potential." Richard Rowan, who worked on many of the early building restorations, says, "We wanted to be the largest, best, and least expensive art school in the country."
Many students say the school provides a good, reasonably priced education. Residents often praise it for helping to revitalize Georgia's oldest city. But along with this success has come a Michelangelo-sized controversy over the Rowans' administrative style and what some charge is an approach that curtails academic freedom.
An aggressive marketing program and an entrepreneurial approach have helped SCAD grow from a single building and 71 students to its 47-building campus and enrollment of 4,000, including students from every state and 67 countries. Mr. Rowan, the school's president, expects to have between 6,000 to 7,000 students within the next five years.
Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, describes the school as "a living laboratory." The private college, which occupies 1 million square feet of space in the historic district, has received several awards for historic preservation and will sponsor the National Trust's 1998 National Preservation Conference.
Revitalizing the city
Many Savannahians feel that no one, with the possible exception of John Berendt, author of the bestselling "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," has contributed as much as the school has to the urban renewal of the coastal city.
"Even though SCAD is a young institution, it's been a major economic generator for the city and region," says Peter Armato, executive director of the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority. "It's created new jobs and a variety of spin-off industries."
Students use state-of-the-art equipment and instruction focuses on building the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in today's job market. Even students in the painting department take an introductory course in computers to earn about digital imaging tools.
"SCAD has beautiful studio spaces and the latest facilities," says John Farkas, vice president of development and public affairs for the Atlanta College of Art.
While SCAD offers 17 majors and several masters programs, it focuses on highly marketable skills like computer art - now the largest major on campus - graphic arts, and industrial design. "We don't buy into the old starving artist idea," says Rowan. "We pride ourselves on our placement success."