It’s a blue-skied fall day, and ArtCenter students are busy at work inside a bright and airy studio space with long white tables at Beijing-based EXR International Art Cultural Exchange Co, Ltd., founded by alumna Melody Yao (BS 11 Graphic Design) and her business partner Shu Tian Xu.
The space is one of three global Community Hubs—in Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul—launched by ArtCenter during the Fall term to address the challenge of classes being taught entirely online and enrolled students being located around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each Hub provides students a maker space to create prototypes, build community and learn together. The Hubs also feature supplemental instruction, lectures, workshops, alumni networking events and social gatherings, both in person and virtually. Field trips to design firms, film studios, museums and other locations have also boosted comradery during this uncertain time.
“Being a part of the Hub in Beijing has been a bonus to my graduate experience,” says Grad Film student Iona Wu. “There’s been a special connection with my friends in the Hub. Collaborating has been helpful to my online school this term, and I’ve found it easier to be in work mode.” At a field trip to Phenom Films, Wu and other students—wearing face masks—learned about how Chinese movies are made pre- and post-production. “I’ve enjoyed attending different events and meeting talented people who are inspiring to my future career,” Wu says.
There’s been a special connection with my friends in the Hub in Beijing. Collaborating has been helpful to my online school this term.Iona WuGrad Film student
ArtCenter President Lorne Buchman brainstormed the concept for the Hubs at the beginning of the pandemic. “When we had to shut down campus, I immediately became concerned about our international students and how they would be able to continue their degree programs with the physical limitations required of lockdown,” he says. “We all know that isolation can compromise learning. We needed to think about how to build some semblance of community to enrich the education of our students. The Hubs were our answer.”
While Yao and Xu provided space within their business for the Beijing Community Hub, Environmental Design alumni Funi Ding (BS 16) and Haidy Gong (BS 16) offered space within their design consultancy Aolab for the Shanghai Community Hub. In Seoul, alumna Jahee Lee (MFA 92 Illustration, BFA 90 Illustration) offered space within a building belonging to her sister, fashion designer Kwang-hee Lee, for the Seoul Community Hub.
These Hubs are also expected to be offered in Spring 2021, says ArtCenter Exchange and Study Away Director Katie Perkins. More Hubs in international and domestic locations are being discussed. In order to participate, students must register for a full or light term of virtual ArtCenter courses. The Hubs are not meant to replace the full ArtCenter experience, Perkins says, and they don’t function as classrooms.
“Our intention is to provide a gathering space with key amenities, and give students the opportunity to work with one another and connect with alumni,” she says. Those amenities include Wi-Fi, long worktables, projectors, wall space for hanging notes and work, and, depending on the location, 3D printers and a Colors, Material and Finishes (CMF) Lab. All new students who want to take advantage of the Hubs are required to take a bi-weekly virtual Hub Seminar. Tutoring and language practice are offered to undergraduate students.
Strict safety precautions are in effect at all the Hubs—determined by local public health officials—with everyone required to bring a mask, have their temperature checked and comply with government mandated COVID-19 contact tracing. Virtual programming to replace in-person programming is also on standby.
“Clients constantly ask us to introduce them to talented designers to join their company,” says Ding, who forged a strong friendship with Gong as a student at ArtCenter and co-founded Aolab with her in 2018. “We’re pleased to help run this Hub in China and bring ArtCenter international students to connect with each other and also connect with the creative industry.”