Campus visit: SCAD Hong Kong

We visit the Savannah College of Art and Design where the next generation of artistic talent is being nurtured.

Fast Facts
Year established: 1978
Class size: Faculty to student ratio:1:19
Curriculum: B.F.A., M.A., M.F.A.
Fees 2017/2018: Various undergraduate and graduate options, check website for details
Non refundable capital levy: N/A
Address: 292 Tai Po Road, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon
Tel: 2253 8044

Tucked away on Tai Po Road is the former North Kowloon Magistracy. The historical building erected in neoclassical style in the sixties was once devoted to dispensing justice to small time criminals. Today it houses the Hong Kong campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), a university established in the U.S. that doesn’t teach law and order but rather is focused on grooming professionals that will go on to do justice for creative businesses and industries around the globe.

SCAD Hong Kong exterior. July 2012.
SCAD Hong Kong exterior, July 2012

“We have a long history of historic restoration at SCAD”, says John Paul Rowan, vice president of strategy and innovation at SCAD. “Of the 115 buildings [we occupy] everything apart from four are historic structures”. Being heavily involved in the creation of the Hong Kong site, Rowan is currently living in the city and running the campus. We speak to Rowan in Courtroom number 1, which still very much resembles the original space, complete with teak floors, prisoners dock, security bars and an iron gate. There is also a fabric chandelier hanging from the ceiling and a large decorated commemorative horse watching us intently from a ledge above the doorway that are both creations of SCAD alumni. In fact, the entire building is a compromise between the modern and historical. The bronze-studded panel doors at the main entrance, the natural granite staircases, the main courtroom and an original detention cell have all been carefully restored, this is offset by every available inch of visible wall space filled with pieces of art by current students and alumni. SCAD’s efforts have been recognized by the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation for their impressive revitalisation.  

SCAD Hong Kong – Winter 2016 – Facilities – North Kowloon Magistracy Building – Interior – Photography by Justin Chan
SCAD Hong Kong – Winter 2016 – Facilities – North Kowloon Magistracy Building – Interior – Photography by Justin Chan

The Hong Kong campus is one of four the university runs. Students can attend the school from the Savannah or Atlanta campuses in North America or Lacoste, France; and if they can’t make it to any of those there is also an e-learning option. “Why Hong Kong?” I ask. “We saw interest [in SCAD] from all over Asia, but students didn’t end up joining because the school was just too far away”, says Rowan. He goes on to tell me that Hong Kong had a “special vibrancy” and that they thought they could offer something unique that wasn’t available here. “We are the largest non-profit art and design university in the world. That allows our students to have hyper-specialisations”. In essence this means that students do not enroll to SCAD to earn a broad degree in film for example. The size of the school allows the students to major in specialisations that run the gamut from visual effects to motion media design, 2D animation, 3D animation, stop motion animation, directing and producing among many others. Currently the school offers more than 40 degree programs including building, communication, entertainment, liberal and fine arts as well as design, fashion, digital media and foundation studies.

SCAD Hong Kong – Spring 2016 – Facilities – North Kowloon Magistracy Building – Interior – Photography by Adam Kuehl
SCAD Hong Kong – Spring 2016 – Facilities – North Kowloon Magistracy Building – Interior – Photography by Adam Kuehl

The courses at SCAD are global in a very real sense of the word. “Once a student is admitted to SCAD, they are admitted to all the locations,” Rowan tells me. “With just one week’s notice, when a new term is starting, a student can apply to join another campus where the housing costs and tuition are the same. Students are encouraged to take advantage of all the locations to get as much of a global perspective as possible.” Faculty on the other hand are encouraged to be as contextual as they can with the location they are in. In terms of Hong Kong, SCAD’s fashion department really lucks out. Being based in Sham Shui Po means they have the “best fabric sourcing in the world on their doorstep”, Rowan explains. “That, and Hong Kong has a great tailoring tradition.” He tells me they hold fine art exhibitions around Hong Kong, with a recent exhibition in Pacific Place repurposing old switch gears donated by China Light and Power (CLP). Students made them into kinetic sculptures, “one even turned them into a fountain, which was pretty cool.” SCAD are also the official education partner for Art Central and they collaborate with the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre. With March being a big month for art in Hong Kong I did ask if they had anything planned but Rowan refused to disclose anything in detail just yet. “Stay tuned”, he says “they’re going to be really good”.

The collaborations don’t stop there. One of the components that SCAD focuses on is adapting these skills for the professional world. “From the very first class you’re building a resume”, Rowan tells me. Every student has a ‘Student Success Advisor’ (as opposed to a general advisor) and a faculty advisor just within the student’s discipline. On top of that, once the student has an idea of what career opportunities are, SCAD tries to connect the student with someone in the school who has career experience they want to replicate or experience in a company they want to work for. Students are also expected to hit the ground running, professionally speaking. “We don’t wait until students graduate to have them working with companies in Hong Kong. They work with HSBC, CLP, MTR, Hallmark cards, Coca Cola and Yves Saint Laurent [among others]”. Many of these companies go on to hire students after graduation. In fact, the SCAD prospectus states that in an alumni survey, 98 percent of the Spring 2015 graduates were employed, pursuing higher education or both within 10 months of graduation. To add to the ‘real world’ element of the schooling, many of SCAD’s faculty are ex-professionals who have come full circle to teach the next generation their craft.

SCAD Hong Kong – Spring 2016 – Facilities – North Kowloon Magistracy Building – Interior – Photography by Adam Kuehl
SCAD Hong Kong – Spring 2016 – Facilities – North Kowloon Magistracy Building – Interior – Photography by Adam Kuehl

We didn’t meet any faculty on my tour of the campus but we did peer into a classroom filled with a dozen trendily dressed fashion students who didn’t notice my face peering through the glass as they busily chatted to each other over a project. The classes are kept very small on purpose we’re told, with a maximum of 20 students although the average is 12. For those taking visual effects, animation, and motion media design programmes, the school also has a fully equipped Green Screen Studio while in the homework lab students have access to industry standard Wacom tablets and custom Apple Mac and Hewlett Packard machines, made for SCAD specs. Throughout the campus are little study nooks and interestingly decorated spaces for students to gather and while the furniture in the Hong Kong building is mainly bought, some of the furniture in the Savannah campus is made by the students and purchased from them. It’s all part of the process of teaching students business practices in how to sell their creations and price them appropriately. On the ground floor is the original, though, refurbished cafeteria and the library, which, although it may appear small at first, is home to 15,000 circulating volumes, more than 100 periodicals, plus it has access to around 400,000 e-books. Students can also request books from other campuses that can be sent over. “We try to make sure that students have any resource they could possibly need for any project they want to take on”, Rowan explains.

So, who are the students? “The type of students that want to come to SCAD are those who are incredibly creative, great problem solvers and who want to be innovators,” Rowan tells me. “I want passion, we can’t teach that. I can teach you everything else, I really can.” From what we can see, there is no shortage of passion here.