The legend goes like this: In the 1970s, Atlanta native Paula Wallace, then an elementary school teacher, dreamed of a college in the south that would cater to students who wanted careers in the arts. A decade earlier, she’d cast about for a school like that for herself—one that would apply the same sort of rigorous academic approach to art and design that other institutions applied to majors like math and science. If a school like that didn’t exist, she thought, why not just start it herself? It was 1977 and she was only 29 years old, but Wallace sold her yellow Volkswagen Beetle and used the funds to co-found the Savannah College of Art and Design, which over the past several decades has become a legendary institution for everyone from textile designers to visual artists and fashion designers, including Christopher John Rogers.
Of course, a woman with the guts to start her own college in the 1970s couldn’t be confined to a small southern city. SCAD later expanded to Atlanta, and then to a place many people may not have expected: a medieval village in the remote countryside of Provence, France.
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It was in this village, named Lacoste, where SCAD’s remote French campus celebrated its 20th anniversary this summer. For two decades, third- and fourth-year students at SCAD have been given the opportunity to live and learn among the beauty of the Luberon Valley, applying the lavender fields and the legendary sunsets to canvas, and scouring the local markets for unique textiles to use in their work. To properly fête the occasion, SCAD Lacoste held a series of events for students, alumni, and a handful of press, including new museum exhibits, along with a student-produced light show and film festival.
SCAD Fash, the school’s museum of fashion and film, partnered with Fondation Azzedine Alaïa in Paris to curate a selection of the Tunisian fashion designer’s most iconic looks, exhibited in an airy space at the top of a hill in Lacoste. The night before the exhibit opened, SCAD Fash curator Rafael Gomez hosted a master class with Fondation Alaïa curator Olivier Saillard; the two reminisced about Saillard’s relationship with Alaïa, and discussed his approach to life and fashion, before opening up the room to Q&As from students.
In honor of the milestone anniversary, the university unveiled a new sculpture by Jedd Novatt, entitled “Chaos Metgalaxia.” SCAD students also created digital art pieces that were projected onto the walls of the craggy stone buildings of Lacoste, creating a juxtaposition of old and new that mirrored what’s at the heart of SCAD’s philosophy: embracing the history of artistic disciplines while also expanding its boundaries. Case in point: cave-like ateliers dot the hilly campus, where SCAD alumni can apply to work on their crafts for a summer. In tandem with multidisciplinary artist Marcus Kenney, former students created light installations in some of the ateliers, which paint the walls of the caves with neon lights.
Gathered around the pool area that doubles as a student life center, it was hard not to wish to be a SCAD student with an uncomplicated summer ahead: to have the freedom to learn and create, yes, but also to drink wine on craggy medieval ledges with the scent of lavender swirling, the politics of the United States a distant memory.
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