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MICA Welcomes Next President, Samuel Hoi

Posted 03.01.14 by mica communications

Incoming President Samuel Hoi. Photo by Carlos Florez ’07.

As MICA prepares to welcome soon-to-be president Samuel (Sammy) Hoi into a new home at the College, he welcomed Juxtapositions into his current home in Santa Monica, California, where he participated in a wide-ranging discussion on his life, career, views on the impact of art and design education, and early thoughts on the future of MICA.

Juxtapositions: What attracted you to MICA?
Samuel Hoi: It really took a college as special as MICA to make me want to leave Otis, to which I have dedicated my work for 14 years. We have built a one-of-a-kind curriculum here that bridges visionary art and design, professional practice, and real life to empower students to learn, grow, and make a difference in the world. So I have loved what I'm doing here, but to be part of MICA's momentum is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I could not pass up.
          I was attracted to MICA because it's an exciting college with an exceptional trajectory, which I have watched with admiration since the 1990s. With Fred Lazarus' legendary leadership, the trustees and campus team have advanced MICA on all fronts in a transformative manner. Yet, there remain very meaningful possibilities that will allow a new president to build on Fred's legacy while helping the College to innovate in response to changing times. When I visited MICA during the search process, I was greatly impressed by the board and the campus community alike, intrigued by what I learned, and stimulated by all the conversations. The sum total of my wonderful experience with MICA over the past few months made me realize that this would be a great college and community to join and serve. Speaking of community, I embrace MICA's family-like environment, which I cherish at places I serve.

Juxtapositions: What about MICA impressed you?
Hoi: Concerning my work, there are four basic things to know about me. I choose my work based on mission and values. I have to be passionate about what I do. I thrive with teamwork. And I am committed to and inspired by excellence. MICA hits the bull's eye for me in all four areas. There is tremendous alignment between my beliefs and MICA's educational mission and organizational and social values. I can easily imagine myself immersing energetically in serving the College's internal and extended constituents. The caliber, camaraderie, and spirit of people I met through the search interview were uniformly inspiring, so I know this is a genuine quality team at work here. Plus, excellence is everywhere at MICA, being the world-class institution it is today.
          In addition, it appeals to me that MICA is globally positioned and yet shares the same authentic community engagement values and practices Otis has. Both colleges weave community engagement deeply into the curriculum. Therefore, there can be a continuation of my life's work even though I am moving to a new institutional home. I should also mention that I admire institutions and people who achieve an outsized impact with their creativity and leveraging strategies. With its leadership presence and contributing work in Baltimore, MICA definitely punches above its weight in its city in a very positive way.

Juxtapositions: You have broad experience developing community partnerships, right?
Hoi: "Right" is the quick answer. The full answer is probably too much for us to cover here. I think broadly about community partnerships. There are community-based projects that focus on social issues and underserved communities. There are cultural partnerships with fellow artistic and educational peers, as well as corporate projects that connect with the business community. Of all types of community partnerships, I gravitate most towards multi-sector convergence projects that serve a common cause because that is how the world needs to operate nowadays. At Otis, I have helped develop the annual Otis Report on the Creative Economy that demonstrates the tangible impact of creative activities and professionals in the prosperity on Los Angeles. I also helped launch a unique curricular model of our own at Otis, called Creative Action: An Integrated Learning, in which community engagement is integrated right into the coursework for students to gain professional training and social service experience in real-world settings. Both initiatives feature multiple-sector collaborations.

Juxtapositions: And before Otis, you developed similar initiatives at Corcoran College of Art + Design?
Hoi: Yes, at the Corcoran, I led the development of visual arts programs that reached out to inner-city children and communities. The art mentorship component was recognized by the President's Committee on Arts and the Humanities. That was quite exciting. I also created a biennial series, called ArtSites, that showcased regional contemporary artists. The series started with a partnership of six cultural institutions and grew to 12.

Juxtapositions: Tell us a little bit more about the Report on the Creative Economy.
Hoi: It is an annual report conceived and commissioned by Otis to quantify creativity by analyzing the financial impact of creative industries and creative professionals on the Los Angeles region. The Otis Report puts real numbers to creativity. First, I wanted to dispel the myth of the starving artist. The success of our alumni has proven the concept wrong, but we needed a bigger picture with evidence to prove our point to skeptics. Second, for the region, it was necessary to make visible an economic force that has been taken for granted. The research was deliberately set up to result in a multiple-sector narrative by including data for for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations, and individual professionals in art, design, and entertainment. Now, I need to emphasize that, while the Otis Report highlights dollars and cents, the story it really tells is the broad and powerful value of artists and creative professions in society. The goal is to increase understanding of and investment in artists and creative enterprises. The report, now in its 7th edition, has become quite influential, and has made Otis a leadership voice of the creative economy in a community like Los Angeles where creativity is central to virtually everything. The most recent Otis Report has expanded to provide a statewide study.

Juxtapositions: How do you plan to work with Fred during the transition?
Hoi: A smooth and collaborative transition is already happening that will honor Fred's remarkable legacy and serve MICA well. I have been a big fan of Fred throughout the two decades that I have known him, so I come to MICA with the utmost respect for him and his visionary leadership. In turn, he has welcomed me graciously and been extremely generous with his time and advice. I am grateful to have his wealth of knowledge on hand as we exchange ideas during the transition. Aside from Fred, there is a transition committee that is helping to guide my entry into the MICA community. The committee is led by Trustee Michel Modell '07' 10, a MICA alumna herself, and has a membership of key board, staff, and faculty leaders. I am very lucky to have such thoughtful support as the new president. This spring, I plan to be in Baltimore several times and hope to begin to meet members of the MICA family and Baltimore community.

Juxtapositions: How do you feel your past experiences have prepared you to be MICA's new president? What are you most proud of?
Hoi: A new president should bring a fresh and value-added perspective, but consider and plan change with the campus community in a strategic and inclusive way. Over my career, I am very lucky to have accumulated a wide range of experiences, from administering continuing education to overseeing degree programs; from refining existing curricula to creating a new college of art and design; from leading a foreign branch campus to handling the complexity of a museum-college relationship; from shaping internal systems and policies to fundraising, building a board, and building external partnerships. Each position I have held has represented new challenges and drastically different organizational, geographic, and cultural contexts. As a result, my capacity to learn, to adapt, and to stretch has been well tested. I look forward to responding to MICA's specific contexts and needs in ways that are tailor-made for the College. To be honest, I look forward to being positively surprised by my own responses once I get to know more about MICA and its specificities.
          Good question regarding what I am most proud of in my jobs to date. There are a lot of possible answers, but I must say that my top choice is the many classes of talented students who have been transformed by the education I have helped provide, who then go on to lead a passionate practice and life and make our world a better place. That's what we are after working at art schools, right?

Juxtapositions: What is your vision for MICA?
Hoi: It is my responsibility and honor as the new president to help articulate the vision and story of the MICA of tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to meeting with and learning from the faculty, staff, and trustees at MICA. Once I understand what they view as MICA's vision and what they particularly hold dear, I can begin to work collaboratively with them to evaluate where opportunities for growth lie and set the goals that will allow the College to evolve while building on its very important culture, traditions, and values. My vision for MICA will organically emerge out of this process of discovering its unique history, dynamics, distinctiveness, and potential.

Juxtapositions: How do you see the College positioned in the next 5-10 years?
Hoi: I see MICA being even more effective in serving its students, an even stronger citizen institution in Baltimore, and even more influential on the world stage. Higher education and art colleges, in particular, are experiencing rapid change. MICA has been able to be at the forefront of that change, and that has been critically important to its competitive positioning. MICA has to continue to prepare students to be inventive practitioners. After all, the US Department of Labor estimates that today's learners will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38. And we have to prepare students to be socially contributing professionals because we depend on the next generation to make our world more sustainable. MICA itself has endless opportunities to continue expanding its impact on Baltimore and beyond. We can be a role model on all these fronts in the higher education world, and as such, we will garner further international attention. This really is a challenging time for all of us in higher education, but also an exciting time for those, like MICA, that are poised for smart change and prepared to demonstrate leadership.

Juxtapositions: What are your first initiatives and goals? And how are you prioritizing those?
Hoi: As mentioned before, one of my first key initiatives is to listen and learn at MICA and about MICA in its extended communities. There are ongoing projects of importance that cannot be put on hold, and I plan to hit the ground running with them. My initial prioritization of tasks will be informed by Fred, the trustees, and the senior staff. I must take my time to learn and introduce myself to the diverse constituents of MICA, but I will dive immediately into the College work that must go on.

Juxtapositions: After living in Los Angeles, how do you feel about living in Baltimore?
Hoi: The city of Baltimore is one of the key factors that attracted me to MICA. I am excited to live in a city where an art school like MICA can have such a great impact. I hope to be able to help the city become even more of a destination for art and design students, arts professionals, and residents who appreciate a thriving creative scene. To be honest, a lot of people in Los Angeles don't understand why I would give up Southern California sunshine to move east where the arctic vortex just swept through! They forget that I lived in New York for 11 years and Washington, DC, for another nine. My East Coast genes may have been latent for a while, but they are kicking back in action now.

Juxtapositions: How do you plan to get integrated into the MICA and Baltimore communities?
Hoi: Through my work life, I have loved every institution I have worked for, and every city I have lived in. One, I choose carefully. Two, I jump in head first wherever I settle. I imagine that I will do the same with MICA and Baltimore. Community engagement and advocacy are at the cornerstone of my work and at the heart of MICA's mission, so becoming entrenched into the campus community, as well as the city, will be crucial to my work there. To acquaint myself with the city, I look forward to meeting as many business and educational leaders, partners, donors, and community groups as possible after my arrival at MICA.

Juxtapositions: How will you lead MICA to take on the challenges and opportunities facing higher education today, including a smaller population of high school graduates, concern with cost, and uncertain government support?
Hoi: As student demographics shift, financial resources dwindle for families, and external support fluctuates, it becomes even more essential for MICA to stay nimble and provide the most effective and efficient models of art and design education possible. I think we all know that. We must do our best to share with families and prospective students our belief that a degree in art and design from MICA is a very worthwhile investment. And we must honor that promise by giving each student access to the best faculty, the best facilities, and the most thorough and forward-thinking educational experience they would receive in any advanced art and design program anywhere. To meet the challenges and the opportunities of the new higher education reality, no art schools today, including MICA, can afford a status quo operation. For MICA to continue its trajectory as a top art and design school in the world, it needs to be a game changer with impact beyond the traditional art school arena. I am fully convinced that MICA can do it in a way that also elevates the city of Baltimore.

Juxtapositions: How are art and design relevant in today's world and for future generations?
Hoi: We have entered the age of ideas, and that will likely continue for a long time. Creativity has never before been more central to what we do and how we live, and also more needed to solve the complex issues of the world. As a result, the creative economy has never been more robust, and there have never been more career applications for an art or design degree. Our students and alumni shape the future by using their creative talents to make contributions to virtually every field-from culture to medicine to gaming. The reality for artists and designers today and into the foreseeable future is that they have a vast platform to operate. If they can be flexible and agile regarding their practice and livelihood, they have great opportunities to invent new roles for creative makers and thinkers in society and to create their own worth. If we can continue to evolve our educational philosophies and delivery models to meet the needs of today's learners, MICA's alumni will continue to be leaders in their fields, impacting contemporary art and design while serving as positive change agents in communities around the world.

Juxtapositions: Would you like to add to anything?
Hoi: Just that I am incredibly excited to come to MICA, that I know we will be able to accomplish a lot together, and that I am so thankful for the openness and support shown to me throughout the search process. I am looking forward to working with the entire MICA community and taking my place in the MICA family.

Image captions (top to bottom): Incoming President Samuel Hoi; Samuel Hoi in his Santa Monica, California, living room; Incoming President Samuel Hoi in his California garden; and Samuel Hoi enjoys a laugh at his home. All photos by Carlos Florez '07.