Paula Wallace: A History of Invention at SCAD

Paula Wallace: A History of Invention at SCAD

July 10, 2020 0 By Stephen Callahan

Paula Wallace, founder of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) knows that starting any educational institution has challenges and risks. For Wallace, this meant everything from selling her beloved Volkswagen Beetle to finance the college to finding the inspiring location in Georgia that lends the university its name: Savannah.


When Paula Wallace began her professional career as an educator, she did not imagine that her career path would guide her from elementary school teacher to university president. But Wallace had a dream: to found a university where talented students would pursue degrees that would lead to creative careers.


At its opening, in 1979, SCAD offered eight degrees; today, SCAD offers more than 40 majors, and more than 100 degree programs.  Wallace’s formal title was provost, but she also served as lead designer,  student adviser, and more. In 2000, she assumed the role of University president — a role she retains to this day.


Since founding SCAD, Paula Wallace has led an initiative to preserve, restore, and revitalize Savannah’s historic buildings to form part of the university’s fabric within the city. Wallace’s transformation of more than 70 Savannah buildings has revitalized Georgia’s oldest and most beautiful coastal city. Worldwide, Wallace has directed the university’s rehabilitation of more than 100 historic structures, garnering critical acclaim and numerous awards. She led the renovation of Hong Kong’s North Kowloon Magistracy Building, which housed the SCAD Hong Kong location until 2020, and she continues to oversee the reimagination of the medieval Provençal village in Lacoste. In recognition of her contributions to the field of preservation design, Paula Wallace has been recognized with prestigious awards from the American Institute of Architects, American Society of Interior Designers, Art Deco Societies of America, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and UNESCO.


Wallace also writes about the significance of architecture. As an author she has penned Perfect Porches: Designing Welcoming Spaces for Outdoor Living, which celebrates one of the South’s staples of socialization and hospitality, and co-authored A House in the South: Old-Fashioned Graciousness for New-Fashioned Times. Over the decades, Wallace has emerged as a highly regarded thought leader and author with exceptional voice and versatility who has penned children’s books, op-eds, treatises on architecture and fashion, and a memoir. The Bee and the Acorn, her 2016 memoir, tells an intimate, moving story of Paula Wallace and SCAD — how a family found faith and rejuvenation in an idea, worked together to nurture their vision and, through Wallace’s leadership, realized a dream. A foremost expert on fashion and architecture, Wallace has authored stunning tomes dedicated to both disciplines. SCAD: The Architecture of a University (2017) chronicles the university’s most inspiring spaces and illuminates the storied pasts of its architectural treasures. Guo Pei: Couture Beyond (2018) is the first major book on China’s leading fashion visionary and her intricate artistry.


More broadly, Wallace has also crafted hundreds of essays and op-eds for publications such as Core 77 and Huffington Post, and has been a featured guest in Q&A’s for the Washington Post, the Hollywood Reporter and many others. Her 2019 WWD Think Tank op-ed “The Generosity of Karl Lagerfeld,” an ode to the late, iconic designer, reached an audience of more than 10 million readers and furthered the late luminary’s legacy.


Wallace is an honorary member of the AIA, a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council, a member of the Advisory Board of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, a 2019 inductee into  the Interior Design Hall of Fame, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She is a recipient of the ASID Nancy Vincent McClelland Merit Award, the Arthur Ross Award for Stewardship, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award, and a Roger Milliken Honorary AIA Legacy Award. Wallace has also been named among Blouin Artinfo’s “Power List: High-Wattage Women of the Art World” and Condé Nast’s “Daring 25.” The French Embassy in the United States of America appointed Wallace a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, the Georgia Historical Society named her a Georgia Trustee, the City of Atlanta presented her with a Phoenix Award, the City of Savannah awarded her a key to the city, and DesignIntelligence named her to its “30 Most Admired Educators.”


Always committed to projects and opportunities that enhance and engage the students, the community, and the creative professions, Paula Wallace continues to develop and implement new festivals that can explore the range of creativity that emerges every day. Since the late-1990s, she has founded and fostered festivals across all three SCAD locations. These include the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, and SCAD FASHION (which presents fashion shows at SCAD Savannah and SCAD Atlanta) to three festivals committed to the best in screen innovation — SCAD aTVfest, emphasizing television; SCAD AnimationFest, focusing on animation and animation design; and, SCAD GamingFest, which includes presentations, panels, and online competitions. Wallace has also produced annual and biennial events that celebrate community histories and achievements, including Savannah Women of Vision, Savannah Songs, and the family-focused Sidewalk Arts Festival, which has delighted participants and viewers for 40 years.


Paula Wallace’s vision and leadership highlight how that best education engages with the most current ideas and developments across contemporary culture. At SCAD, she has led the development of new degree programs, many the first-ever in their fields, including the business of beauty and fragrance, social strategy and management, and themed entertainment design. Wallace is continuously  engaged with the intellectual life of SCAD students, personally conducting class observations at all SCAD locations, and overseeing student learning initiatives and faculty professional development offerings.


Other signature achievements include the SCAD Alumni Atelier Program, which provides SCAD alumni with an on-campus artist residency program; SCAD Art Sales, which connects SCAD artists with global clients; SCADFILM, which increases the knowledge and network of entertainment arts professionals; and SCADpro, the university’s innovation design studio. Founded more than a decade ago, as the result of Wallace’s recognition of the number of individual student/professional collaborative projects occurring every quarter, today SCADpro works with industry leaders including BMW, Delta, Google, Gulfstream, Volvo, Uber, and more.


More recently, Wallace founded SCADamp, a professional communication and presentation studio where students could prepare for professional opportunities and engagements. Recognizing the need students have to amplify their voices, SCADamp helps students learn to effectively speak,  visualize, and connect.


In 1978, Paula Wallace arrived in Savannah with a dream, and a commitment to create a university that prepared talented students for professional careers. More than 40 years later, her vision is embodied through three locations worldwide, more than 46,000 alumni, and a university that continues to focus on its mission to serve the creative professions. She remains at the forefront of educational design, and the development and delivery of industry-leading qualifications and degrees. From founder to provost to president, Paula Wallace’s life’s work focuses on creating preeminent educational experiences for talented and engaged students.


Wallace holds Master of Education and Education Specialist degrees from Georgia State University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Furman University. She also was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law from Gonzaga University.

SCAD Savannah – Summer 2015 – Savannah College of Art and Design President Paula Wallace – Photography by Chia Chong