This is my last blog post as Kendall’s president, although I plan to continue “Oliver’s Observatory” after I retire. And I am posting this last entry two weeks after returning from NeoCon 2012 and the sixteenth NeoCon class that Kendall has offered its students. 2012 was an interesting year to attend NeoCon for the last time as Kendall’s president, especially since Rob Kirkbride has described this NeoCon as one of the most important in years. This class started as the vision of Beverly Russell, whom some will remember from the Beverly Russell International Lecture Series, named for, and organized by, Beverly between 1995 and 2000. Like that lecture series, the class held during NeoCon invited significant designers to speak to Kendall students during NeoCon in Chicago and then to tour a showroom associated with the designer. Those of us who were there will not forget trying to tour showrooms with such famous designers as Bill Stumpf, designer of the Aeron Ergonomic Office Chair, Margaret McCurry, Eva Maddox, or Carl Magnusson.
Since Beverly handed off responsibility for organizing the class, the class has been carried on by such wonderful friends of Kendall as Georgy Olivieri and—for the past several years—Michelle Kleyla and is now supported in part by an endowment from the estate of G. W. Haworth. This class remains one of the many ways Kendall seeks to connect its students with the professional world of art and design.
I was especially delighted this year that at the opening reception for this class, two recent alums spoke about their careers and what they have been doing since graduation. Lauren Mitus, now with Material ConneXion, and Yana Carstens, of Elevate Studios, spoke about their challenges and success in navigating the current economy. And I was especially delighted that Erli Gronberg, formerly the Chair and now Professor Emeritus of Interior Design, was there to introduce students to NeoCon.
When I was a faculty member and later an administrator, I personally always welcomed a change in the presidency in the institution where I happened to be. Sometimes, of course, presidents do not leave on their own volition—and usually that meant a sense of relief as a new president arrived. But when a president leaves because, as in the lyrics of the great George Jones song, “[his] heart tells [him] it’s ready,” the possibilities for a college or university are wonderful. A new president brings new experiences and a new point of view and is himself a new audience for people who have dreams and visions of what they would like to see the institution do.
The 2012-2013 academic year will be an exciting one for Kendall, not only because it will continue the kind of tradition represented by the class the College does at NeoCon, but because three new undergraduate initiatives will also get fully underway—the BFA in Fashion Studies, the BFA in Medical Illustration (done in collaboration with Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine), and the BFA in Collaborative Design. With these kinds of new programs and building on its past successes, Kendall College of Art & Design will continue to be an important part of design education.
From the point of view of sustaining Kendall’s traditions and the excitement of inaugurating new opportunities, I celebrate that Kendall has an exciting new president in the person of David Rosen and exciting possibilities for the future. But candidly, my heart has told me “it’s ready”; and I look forward to hearing from a distance about the wonderful places Kendall will go and the wonderful things it will do.