Since 2015, Coursera, an educational technology company that provides online learning opportunities to millions of learners around the globe has partnered with Open Learning at Calarts, an initiative led by the Office of the Provost and Extended Studies. This ongoing relationship has helped CalArts expand its offerings to individuals worldwide, as well as generate some additional revenue that has been reinvested into the degree programs.
The Graphic Design program was a pioneer of the Open Learning initiative, in large part due to the efforts of long-time faculty member, Michael Worthington. The program currently offers a total of ten courses through coursera, five graphic design fundamentals courses, four UI/UX courses, and a ‘language of design course. The department’s efforts have proven to be a remarkable success, enabling some of the revenue from these courses to be used to help fund initiatives within the program, including last year’s renovation of the A102 MFA studio.
The way in which graphic designers work has changed enormously over the last few decades. Studio spaces for designers have adapted in recent years to accommodate these changes. Worthington, who has been a part of the faculty in Graphic Design since 1995, recognized that a redesign of the studio was long overdue but he also wanted to ensure that it took into account the needs and desires of students and his fellow faculty.
“We began the process by discussing with current students what was wrong with the old space and what they would want in a new space,” he explained. “Having a more friendly, casual and shared space was critical to the students as well as the Graphic Design program’s pedagogy in terms of creating a studio atmosphere that echoes the team-based, open environment of most contemporary design offices.”
Since the space is used for instruction as well as providing a studio for graduate students, it needed to be modular and flexible. But Worthington and the students were also looking to build a hub as well. “We wanted to create a space that could help to build back the student design community,” Worthington said. “We wanted a place where you would want to work and hang out with your peers.”
To accomplish this, Worthington took on the role of “unofficial contractor” for the redesign project. But it turned out to require a bit more industriousness than simply conceiving of the perfect space. As is often the case with such projects, issues arose that needed to be addressed.
“We thought that we could dig channels for electrical in the concrete floor,” Worthington explained. “But then we found out that the floor was full of all kinds of metal rebar. Apparently on some mysterious early plans, the room had been labeled as a ‘bakery’ so who knows what it was supposed to be in the 70s!” Instead, they ran the electrical through the ceiling and dropped it down to the workspace hubs below. The goal in every case was to be as economical and efficient as possible, while ensuring that the result would meet expectations.
The response to renovation, which was completed before the beginning of the fall 2021 semester, was overwhelmingly positive. “The faculty who teach in that space love it. It’s open, it’s flexible, there’s easily accessible technology,” Worthington said. “The environment really helps to create a collegial but professional atmosphere. It creates a context for taking the work that is critiqued there seriously.”
Another, perhaps predictable, outcome has been a strong desire from students to have the other studios redesign in a similar way. The department hopes that it will be able to renovate them over the next few years.
“We were fortunate enough to generate enough income from the Graphic Design courses with Coursera to pay for this renovation in its entirety,” Worthington said. “So if the courses continue to generate similar revenue, we hope to be able to renovate a different studio every summer for the next few years.”