No place like HK for American students

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 February, 2011, 12:00am

The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) enrolled its first students in Hong Kong at the start of the academic year. Housed in the historic North Kowloon Magistracy building at 292 Tai Po Road in Sham Shui Po district, the campus of this American institution has set its sights on becoming the leading place to study digital media in Asia.

'The faculty comes with a reputation of excellence that our students want to be part of,' says Tom Gattis, associate vice-president of SCAD Hong Kong.

'And Hong Kong itself is such an attractive destination. It's the melting pot of the East. It's exciting to be here. And it has an international arts scene. There is an interesting mix of people from the far corners of the world that you get access to.'

Sixty per cent of students are local. The rest are from 18 countries. The focus in Hong Kong is on commercial art. In the United States, there are also programmes in fine arts.

'A fairly large number of our international students are from the Study Abroad programme in the US,' Gattis says.

SCAD has campuses in Savannah and Atlanta in Georgia, and in Lacoste, France.

None of the first group of students who came to Hong Kong as part of the programme wanted to go home after their three months in Hong Kong came to an end. Take Michelle Stitchling, a second year master of fine arts student from Atlanta.

'I have decided to finish the programme in Hong Kong,' she says. 'Everyone wanted to stay. The only ones [who] went home did so because of pressure from their families.'

The students in the Study Abroad programme were brought to Hong Kong to work on a project that will document Sham Shui Po in words and pictures.

There are three teams: 13 photographers, 10 graphic designers and four students doing research into historic preservation.

'We are researching the district and documenting the transition of the neighbourhood,' says Greer Muldownie, a second year master of fine arts major from the Savannah campus. 'It will eventually become a book.'

Steven Aishman, a professor of photography at SCAD Hong Kong, expects the book to be commercially viable. The picture books 'will be sold on', he says.

One of the purposes behind the project is to give students experience in the monetisation of their craft. 'One of SCAD's mottos is: 'There will be no starving artists'!' Aishman says. 'That is why we have them work on projects that involve industry. We want them to have industry experience.'

Gattis agrees. 'We bring students into contact with captains of industry,' he says. 'It changes the dynamics of the educational experience.

'This is pervasive in our American system, but it's not so prevalent here.' One of the first things the students did after settling in and finishing their first day of classes was traipse down Tai Po Road and start exploring the neighbourhood. They liked what they saw.

'The students had this idea of doing a runway shoot in the back streets of Sham Shui Po,' Aishman says. 'What's special is that the community was very supportive. They seemed to be flattered.'

Muldownie adds: 'It's such a foreign place, and yet I've already made so many inroads.'

Stitchling was editing a picture of the neighbourhood police station on a computer when a tour group came through.

'The inspector of the station was in the group,' she says. 'He came over and asked if we'd like to see the inside of the police station. Of course we said yes.'

Cameras in tow, a group of students descended on the police station and started shooting. Their photos have been framed and are now on permanent display in the station.

SCAD Hong Kong offers bachelor of arts degrees in advertising, animation, graphic design, illustration, interactive design and game development, motion media design, photography, and visual effects.

At postgraduate level, it also offers two-year master of arts programmes in graphic design, interactive design and game development, and photography. Some of the students have had professional experience since receiving their first degree.

The master of arts in graphic design covers contemporary art, design methodologies, typography, print, digital media, the role of graphic design in social awareness, 3-D graphics and a final project.

The master of arts in interactive design and game development covers contemporary art, interactive design and media application, game design documentation, visual interface and information design, character development, interactive Web design, scripting for interactivity, environments for games, human-centred interactive design, and a final project.

The master of arts in photography covers contemporary art, black and white photography, colour photography, digital photography, studio craft, photographic art, and a final project.

The master's programme in commercial photography also offers courses in commercial photography, fashion photography and digital portfolio.

'We will probably add more, but it will depend on market demand and interest in the programme,' Gattis says.

Students are free to study at any of SCAD's four campuses. They can also study online via e-learning.

'One of the best parts of being in Hong Kong is that we are in constant contact with the other campuses,' Muldownie says.

One of SCAD's strongest suits is its commitment to career services. Advisers help students choose the right classes, construct winning r?sum?s and put together portfolios. They also offer support in such areas as interviewing skills and job search strategies.

'We are career-focused in the classroom,' Gattis says. 'It is part of our mission. It is part of everything that we do. I think that we are truly trying to prepare them for their careers. In the States, 80 per cent of our graduates are either working in their chosen field or in graduate school within months of graduation.'