Karen Wirth at President's Forum


December 13, 2018

Dear MCAD Community,

Last month I was invited to participate in the International Art Education Conference at the Central Academy of Fine Art (CAFA) in Beijing, China. It was the grand finale of their one-hundred-year-anniversary celebration. CAFA was the first national school of fine arts in China, and it ushered in the beginning of modern education in fine arts there. The anniversary events included six simultaneous forums, with wide international representation. Opening remarks were made by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and former Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova.

The topic of the President Forum was Art Education as a Power to Change the World. Presentations were made by forty college or university presidents or directors of national cultural institutions, from the Director of the Moscow State Academic Art Institute to presidents of the Tokyo University of the Arts and Accademia di Belle Arte di Roma. I was very proud to represent the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. The talks ranged across three subjects: Living Tradition covered approaches to keeping traditional arts alive while building capacity for innovation; Value of Skills weighed the balance between technical skills and conceptual development, and between theory and practice; and Boundary Extension delved into the influence of global sharing of information and resources, high mobility, and the inclusion of technologies on daily life.

Choosing the latter, I talked about MCAD Design Chair Erik Brandt’s poster project Ficciones Typografika, dedicated to typographic exploration in a public space. The five-year-long project included MCAD students as well as international designers. Displayed on his garage wall in the Whittier neighborhood, the project literally reached global proportions. From there, I presented a range of partnered projects from classes in the entrepreneurial studies program, where our students have completed work for the Scottish Board of Tourism, Books for Africa, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, among many others. Finally, I introduced our online master of arts in sustainable design where MCAD students from all over the world join an international network of sustainability professionals through design strategy and problem-solving projects.

The talk showed how one small college of art and design in the middle of the United States can reach out to people and projects around the world and join global communities seeking to devise solutions for complex challenges. We expose ourselves to very different ways of being in the world, gain perspectives that test what we know, and stretch our capabilities. Artists, designers, and creative thinkers who understand the problems and work through them are the creative future, who can find balance, share recognition and creative agency to iterate these new solutions to act on the world. And we are educating that next generation of artists and designers to do precisely that.

Karen Wirth
MCAD Interim President

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