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In 1977, 29-year-old Paula Wallace quit her job, sold her yellow Volkswagen Beetle and her home, and...
Fempire 28 Mar 2017

The Queen Bee of a new creative class
Founder & president of SCAD, Savannah, Georgia

In 1977, 29-year-old Paula Wallace quit her job, sold her yellow Volkswagen Beetle and her home, and took a chance on her lifelong dream to open a new university for the arts — the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The first classes were held in September 1979 with just 71 students. Now, nearly 40 years later, SCAD is one of the largest and most renowned university for art and design in the world with four global locations and ranked programs in what have always been some of Paula’s strongest personal passions — interior design, fashion, and fine arts.

She lifted the city of Savannah to the global design map and just end of last year received the honorary AIA award which recognises an individual “who has held the design community to a higher standard and made the world a better place through the use of design”.
As the university`s founder and president, Wallace oversees the up-and-coming creative class. With the blessings of industry visionaries including Daniel Lismore, Guo Pei, Oscar de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg, Arianna Huffington, Carolina Herrera and many, many more, SCAD has utilised these relationships to create successful creative careers for their graduates. Alumni often have very a prestigious career – ranging from driving fashion design, art and innovation at major companies including Anthropologie, Pixar, Disney, Target, Google — or as entrepreneurs who have started their own fashion lines, tech companies and more – thanks to this brave and unconventional woman.
SCAD Savannah – Summer 2015 – Savannah College of Art and Design President Paula Wallace – Photography by Chia Chong
In the art world currently I find most exciting that…
The magic of the quotidian world. The SCAD Museum of Art (SCAD MOA) recently commissioned site-specific installations by Hank Willis Thomas, Chiharu Shiota, and Radcliffe Bailey, all of whom invoke found objects in their work (piano keys, antique chairs, agricultural products) to explore the inexorable interrelationship of personal and cultural experiences across time. Radcliffe said to me, “I like to use materials that are close by, accessible to me, that relate.” Hank has filled our public art jewel boxes with rice, cotton, tobacco, and indigo for all the world to see. Chiharu called upon SCAD student assistants to web together 56 miles of red yarn to create an otherworldly cocoon. These exhibitions make the familiar strange again, and in so doing, restore the magic of everyday life.
Number of unanswered mails in your account…
None! I try to respond to everything within a week. I probably reply quickest to emails from alumni sharing their successes—these stories are close to my heart. When alumni reach out, everything stops. I want to know it all: What they’re doing, where, when are they coming back for hugs and master classes?
My perfect working outfit…
Light layers suit me best for Savannah’s subtropical climate. In the morning, I’m often out and about observing classes or overseeing preparation for exhibitions, screenings. A jacket is key. One minute it’s frigid, especially with the great gusts of wind we get, being so close to the river and the ocean, and by afternoon the atmosphere’s wilting collars and hair. We do a lot of walking in Savannah, but we still know what good kicks look like. In dress as in life, one must be ready for anything. Motion, comfort, and confidence win the day.
My favourite new brand discovery…
Cavanagh Baker is really making a splash. Her fashion designs were recently lauded by Yahoo!Style, who suggested she may be “the Ralph Lauren of Nashville.” Fans of Kelsea Ballerini, who recently won the iHeartRadio Best New Country Artist award, can see the star rocking one of Baker’s rompers in her “Peter Pan” music video. Her work as a student here at SCAD prompted attention, and the success she’s found since graduating portends even greater things to come.
SCAD Savannah – Summer 2015 – Savannah College of Art and Design President Paula Wallace – Photography by Chia Chong
My everyday online art read is…
Design-Milk.com. I’m surrounded by students who are always in tune with the latest trends in the art world, and Design Milk’s keen perceptions keep me in the loop and ready for conversation.
My necessary extravagance is…
A trip to the delectable Marche de Macarons in Savannah. Everyone needs a taste of heaven once in a while, right? These petit indulgences are a picture-perfect feast for the eyes and the palate.
Most ridiculous thing I’ve ever bought…
Probably a canary yellow Volkswagen Beetle, back in about 1975. Why? Because I ended up having to sell it in 1978 to raise funds for this little art school we were starting in Savannah. The Beetle was not ridiculous—selling it felt ridiculous. I loved that car! It was perfect: tiny, sturdy, sporty, unmistakable. Every time I see a vintage Beetle, I say a prayer of gratitude for what one little yellow Beetle helped us create. Without that car, we might not have SCAD.
My ultimate secret after long working hours…
I’ve found that Pilates is the perfect restorative art form, a way to practice mindfulness and keep in shape. I particularly enjoy class when my daughter joins me. With busy schedules, we revel in uninterrupted opportunities to reconnect.
My favourite collaboration of the art- and fashion world…
Carolina Herrera and Carlos Cruz-Diez are two of the most passionate, thoughtful, world-changing artists I’ve ever encountered. I had the privilege of meeting both within the past year. Last spring, SCAD curated the world’s first museum exhibition of Carolina Herrera’s work in a simultaneous exhibition at the SCAD Museum of Art (Savannah) and SCAD FASH (Atlanta). One of the dresses in her Spring 2014 collection was inspired by the groundbreaking art of fellow Venezuelan Cruz-Diez. His explorations of the chromatic world transform how we perceive and experience light and color.
My favourite hashtag…
#OnceABeeAlwaysABee helps me keep up with students and alumni accomplishing their dreams all over the world. I love that I can catch a glimpse of what our graduates are up to in an instant, thanks to social media.
On my office table I always have…
A vintage dictionary. My favorite is a 1928 edition, full of uncommon yet evergreen turns of phrase. I often crack it open to add a touch of blarney when writing correspondence.
The most arty city is…
Anywhere SCAD graduates are living and working. Color me biased. Honestly, it’s a difficult question. Savannah has more galleries per capita than New York. Atlanta’s easily the most energized and thrilling large urban area in the country. To choose just one city right now, I’d probably have to say Hong Kong, especially in March when Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Central Hong Kong transmogrify the city into an art universe supernova.
Who are the best dressed in the art world…
In December, Art Basel Miami Beach offered up hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates for that distinction! Still, I think top honors go to the two artists behind the SCAD AT MIAMI exhibition Theater of Self. The wardrobe of Daniel Lismore, of course, is a wonder to behold. Photographer, multimedia artist, and SCAD graduate student Bin Feng was the focus of many admiring glances in James Bond-style dinner jacket. Somehow he appears even more sartorially glamorous in person than in his cinematically styled self-portraits.
Art world gent I would love to have lunch with…
Pierre Cardin. At 94, he exudes panache. He collects art and architecture. Whenever I visit SCAD Lacoste, I see Pierre and marvel anew at his ingenuity. His avant-garde fashions are always in style.
Artist(s) we should have on our watch list is/are…
Daniel Arsham. His “Wall Excavation” installation last year was like nothing I’d seen or experienced before. If you can, you must experience his work in-person. Also keep an eye out for the enlightening and eye-catching paintings of SCAD alumni Jon Moody and Summer Wheat.

Photo by Savannah College of Art and Design

Instagram: @paulaswallace

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