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NASAD President's Remarks at Annual Meeting

Recently, as President of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), I gave remarks to at the Association’s Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland on October 12, 2016. The assembled ideas have resonance beyond that meeting of representatives from higher education institutions accredited by the association, a body built on voluntary, peer membership.  As an association of private and public multipurpose and stand-alone art colleges and universities offering associate, baccalaureate and graduate degrees, NASAD contributes to the field of art and design higher education by determining best practices in educating our students for a changing world.  

In the context of insuring that the curricular programs of the Association’s members develop the skill sets that students need to attain their respective degrees and to be successful in their lives and careers, the following edited remarks began with the question:

“ …what about the careers of our students?”

A recent blog posted on HuffPost by Dustin Timbrook posed the following question and answer:

“Can you imagine a world in which most jobs are obsolete?  If not, you are most likely in for a rude awakening in the coming decades of radical shifts in employment. This is particularly true for new parents propelling the next generation of workers into an adulthood that many economists and futurists predict to be the first ever “post-work“ society.

Though the idea of a jobless world may seem radical, the prediction is based on the natural trajectory of “creative destruction” — that classic economic principle by which established industries are decimated when made irrelevant by new technologies.”

Let’s also consider two other factors to add to the prediction of creative destruction.  We live in a time when FaceBook, Wikipedia and Yelp provide the voice of the “Everyman” versus the revered and educated scholar who defines quality through critical and informed research. In addition, a recent PBS segment stated that the person has already been born who will live to be 200.

Where does that leave us? What does the common wisdom say about the new workforce competencies and life skills that will be needed to succeed in a technology-enabled, post-work environment? Collaboration, networking, conceptual and process analysis skills, critical thinking, flexibility, adaptability, and continuous, self-directed learning are high on the list. Do these attributes sound familiar? They should; they are our everyday currency in the practice and study of visual art and design.

This may be very familiar ground for you if you are an art and design faculty member or administrator who is already developing and adapting programs that consider these changes. If not, you should. Regardless of where you are in the spectrum of planning for the future, here are some data to contemplate:

  • In this year, 3.5 zettabytes of new information will be created – that’s the equivalent of 250 billion DVDs, more information than has been created in the previous 5,000 years.  –  of course, the question arises of whether that information is valuable, interesting, etc.
  • It’s estimated that one week’s worth of the New York Times contains more information than the average 18th Century person encountered in a lifetime. – That explains so much, doesn’t it? No wonder we can’t get through the Sunday Times in a week.
  •  More to the point of an average higher ed baccalaureate degree, 50% of what a first year student learns will be obsolete by the student’s 3rd year. (This is not as true for Art and Design programs, nevertheless it is illustrative of the pace at which information and scholarship are changing.)

It would appear, as some have said, that higher education should be preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist with technologies that haven’t yet been invented, in order to solve problems that haven’t been identified.

A WEF study shows that 7.1 million white collar jobs will be lost by 2020. What will replace them? In The Future of Work, Trends Disrupting your People Agenda, speculation on what popular jobs in 2025 may be includes: urban farmer, 3-D printer design specialist, smart home handyperson, virtual experience designer, and not surprisingly, senior caregiver. Today’s graduates will have 10 - 14 jobs by age 38. More importantly, those graduates will be identified not by their careers nor what they own but by their purpose…and their creativity – a very human attribute – an attribute which will allow them to embrace the change that will characterize their professional lives. Knowing this, the art and design fields will be increasingly essential in the near and long term because of the skill sets our graduates possess.

Let’s return to the blog from which I quoted earlier, in which Timbrook advocates the importance of developing creative literacy. He advises parents to send their kids to art school. In fact, the title of the blog is: If You Want Your Children to Survive the Future, Send Them to Art School.

Art and design skills are valuable knowledge. Creative thinking is already a valuable commodity for corporations, businesses and organizations. Imagine a time in which this knowledge is highly valued by the general public and consider what the challenges might be at that time. As we in the art and design fields become leaders on campus and in the worlds of work and post-work, let’s not let the application of our commodity of creative thinking become codified and formulaic. Creativity and innovation are, by their very natures, fluid and flexible. We have very specific ways of teaching and achieving a multiplicity of approach, however we should be mindful of retaining the essence of creativity as our thinking and methodologies move beyond our current fields.

One other thought, the proliferation and growth in art and design programs on the college level in recent years is indicative of the innovation that comes from our perpetual quest to find the best way to convey our content in a changing world. That quest will not end, but expand, with a greater acknowledgement of its value.

If You Want Your Children to Survive the Future, Send Them to Art School
. Dustin Timbrook on HuffPost. February 2, 2016.
The Future of Work, Trends Disrupting your People Agenda, EY presentation, EY Global People Advisory Services. April 2016.

Creative Living
oregon college of art and craft