Monday, 15 June 2015

Humble but not Shy!

At WeUsThem we have a saying, both for ourselves and our clients:
We are "Humble but not Shy".

Recently, we have taken it a step further:
"Humble but Never Shy".

I was recently asked by President (Paula) Wallace of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to speak to graduates at the 2015 commencement ceremony. Before I knew it, I touched down in Savannah and was greeted by one of the Directors of External Affairs, Alison.

Let me tell you folks, southern hospitality is alive and well. From the second I met Alison to the time I left, she reminded me that I was her guest and insisted on doing everything for me, from carrying my bags, to giving me a personalized tour of the SCAD campus, to taking care of every little detail from my gown to the hat, to meals, to .. well, you get the idea.

I arrived at the steps of Magnolia Hall, the physical embodiment of that same southern hospitality. Referring to Magnolia Hall as simply the President’s guest house is a sincere understatement, as to truly appreciate Magnolia Hall would need a vacation on its own. Even President Wallace herself was involved in designing its interior.

Think of Magnolia Hall as a chic bed and breakfast with historical architecture, with fine artwork adorning every inch of every wall, with amenities in the interior that would rival any five star hotel. Overseeing Forsyth Park, the Hall provides for a sense of grandeur that can be felt over the centuries, without missing a step.

History is carefully maintained in Savannah and SCAD goes to great lengths to both curate it and endow it with their own creative touch. It is no surprise Paula took the lead on Magnolia Hall, its magnificence exemplified by her direction. You can have a peek at Ann Street Studio’s visual essay along with my own pictures of Magnolia Hall, it truly is one to be experienced.

Magnolia Hall has been home to guests like Oliver Stone, Mark Jacobs and Marina Abramovic, just to name a few, minus the wonderful people who I shared this beautiful abode with. My stay at Magnolia Hall had me mingling with the Board of Visitors and Trustees of SCAD, along with the other guest speakers for this year’s big commencement. If you know anything about these captains of industry, you know they are the who’s who of the creative world across all disciplines.

As I met each of these individuals, the notion of “Humble but not Shy” was not just evident but was the practical and very real application of it. My first interaction happened to be with Mr. Domineco De Sole, with a corporate history that includes running the fashion house of Gucci and being on the boards of Sotheby’s, Gap and Tom Ford. Domenico was to be given a honorary doctorate and had the enviable task of introducing Disney Pixar’s John Lasseter (more on this later). At one of our tours, Domenico turned to me and said, “I know everything about fashion, but I know nothing about John” and continued to say, “Eleanore, made me spend a night watching Finding Nemo, Cars and Toy Story to get an idea of the business John is in”. Eleanore De Sole, Domenico’s wife, was also to be honoured with a doctorate for her work in the global support of the arts at the commencement.

Domenico even spoke to Tom Ford to ask who John was and Tom’s response hilariously was, “Do you mean The John Lasseter? Me and my son have watched Toy Story over seven times. We love his work”. With that, Domenico had done his homework and shared his tale of how we got to appreciate this year’s fellow commencement speakers’ art.

Speaking of John Lasseter—here is a guy who really loves the characters he creates and is so immersed in them that he doesn’t realize he told me he own a two-mile long steam train track in his backyard. As I picked my jaw off of the floor, John showed me pictures on his phone that he was too eager to show me, with a twinkle in his eyes that would let someone mistake him for a child. This was the man whose creative work has brought Pixar more than $8.5 billion and more than enough Oscars and Golden Globes. Wearing his signature Hawaiian shirt (they are actually laden with characters all over), John is a creative genius who regales his creative process to me while having the glow of a proud papa who was to see his son graduate that weekend. If you missed it, listen to how this guy passionately talks about the Sheriff Woody story (Toy Story) in his commencement speech. This is how you create and understand what it means to actually see creativity and art blossom to a point where it is immersed in the lives of people across the globe.

What do you have to do in a lifetime to have a portrait of yours to be hung in the Louvre? First, you have to be a woman of style and substance. Enter Anita Thomas. Anita is on the Board of Trustees of SCAD, is a contributing editor to various magazines like Southern Accents, Verandah, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, has her designs featured in The New York Times, and is a cultural icon to be reckoned with. This lady has fine tastes and is extremely generous in her support of SCAD, directing her upcoming birthday gifts straight to the school. Incidentally, she invited me to her birthday, to be held at the Guggenheim in Venice next month—any takers?

Not to be left behind, my first interaction with this group of elites happened to be with Eleanore De Sole. Eleanore was curious about who I was, what I had done thus far and how I had grown personally and professionally. A cultural elite, Eleanore has supported and served boards locally and internationally such as The American International School of Florence in Italy, The Madeira School, The Benjamin West Group of The Royal Academy, Benjamin Franklin House and The Aspen Art Museum.

My most personal conversation was with Sally Waranch Rajcic, President of the Ronald C. Waranch Charitable Foundation and the owner and director of the Sarah Bain Gallery. Her curiosity of my life thus far resulted in us sharing a personal moment on the love we have for our families. I will leave it at that, and with respect to her and my memories, I will certainly take credit for how my need to continually learn over the years was a bug she was now bitten with. Who knows—SCAD may now have a new student in one of their Trustees.

Meeting Dr. Walter and Linda Evans once again was a treat as always. Especially when being exposed to their collection of their African American art at the SCAD Museum of Art, it was quite evident their love for the arts were unmatched and truly a reason for why they are identified as the top 100 collectors of art by Arts and Antiques Magazine. They were such down-to-earth people, and truly embody the definition of “Humble but not Shy”, continuing to support the love of the arts at SCAD while promoting it wherever they go.

My conversation with Paula (yes, I know she is President and Founder Wallace of SCAD, but she is so approachable that somehow titles get in the way) was, simply put, gratifying. The loved ones in my life have always been a great support system for me, but to hear a fellow creative of her stature say “I’m proud of you” and “I’m proud of your achievements” has a place all of its own. It somehow gives you that stamp you needed to have to signify you have done your profession right. Paula is welcoming in this fashion and is very approachable to the Trustees and students alike. She is quite simply the force behind what SCAD is and has run the university in a fashion that makes it the premiere institution of arts and creativity in its own signature style.

As I left Savannah, I thought about how I would capture what I had just been through. And then it hit me. The words we live by, “Humble but not Shy”. All the experiences and the conversations... they revealed one thing quite loudly. We all need to be “Humble but Never Shy”.

The three days I spent away from home can almost be equated to an extended party at the Gatsby’s, but it was more than that. It was more than just coming back to university. It was more than being like coming home, like being in the midst of creative genius and amateur creativity all in one.
It was, to put it quite simply, surreal.