“Art and design in the United States has long been influenced by individuals who have emigrated to this country and brought with them their homeland’s cultural traditions,” says Su Mathews Hale, ArtCenter’s new Chair of its Board of Trustees. Mathews Hale took the reins from Robert C. Davidson Jr., who ended his 10-year run as Chair in June 2020 and now serves as Chair Emeritus. “Exposure to diverse points of view is not only a critical component of our students’ education, but it’s also a key to ArtCenter’s continuing global relevancy.”
CEO and chief creative officer of Su Mathews Hale Design, a multidisciplinary brand strategy and design consultancy with offices in San Francisco and New York, Mathews Hale has worked with a wide array of high-profile clients, including eBay, Samsung, Citibank, Walmart, Disney, Hawaiian Airlines, Hyatt, Taco Bell and Hershey’s. She also served on the board of AIGA—the professional association for design, which serves more than 25,000 members worldwide—both as a trustee and as president, one of only five women to hold the position in the organization’s 100- year history. With AIGA, Mathews Hale spearheaded Women Lead, a committee dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in design, cultivating awareness of gender-related issues, and connecting women both within and beyond the design industry.
Perhaps even more impressive is a life journey that began for Mathews Hale as an abandoned baby on a street in Seoul, South Korea. Adopted by an American family, she was raised in Trumansburg, New York, just outside Ithaca. Mathews Hale attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where she earned a bachelor’s in Communication Design. Upon graduation, she landed a full-time position with Pentagram, one of the most prestigious design firms in New York, where she had interned as a student. There, she thrived under the mentorship of its renowned partners. She cites the firm’s partner Michael Beirut as a revered colleague and mentor, and found Paula Scher, Pentagram’s only woman partner at the time, particularly inspirational. Mathews Hale remained with the firm for 10 years before deciding to establish her own professional practice.
But that plan was waylaid when she was recruited for a partnership position at Lippincott, a pioneer in corporate identity and brand strategy. She joined Lippincott and was promoted to senior partner just two years later. She spent 12 years with the firm in New York before relocating to San Francisco to build and co-lead the firm’s West Coast office, where she served as lead senior partner for creative.
Fulfilling a desire for greater balance between life and work, Mathews Hale finally realized her dream of opening her own practice in 2018, quickly establishing her expertise in brand strategy and positioning with a host of corporate leaders. Her ability to understand, analyze and strategize for clients, in addition to her award-winning creative work, has yielded loyalty–and many referrals.
She built her new creative team just as digital technology was transforming networking opportunities, and she realized that she could work with the best photographers, illustrators and writers, regardless of where they were based.
Her “distributive model” of staffing proved highly successful, allowing the firm to dip into a huge talent pool and tailor teams to the unique needs of individual projects.
Introduced to ArtCenter and its Board of Trustees by alumnus and long-serving Trustee, Pentagram partner Kit Hinrichs (BFA 63 Advertising), Mathews Hale joined the Board in 2017. She assumes leadership of the Board at a particularly challenging time. One of her top priorities as Chair is to focus on increasing diversity, equity and inclusivity among ArtCenter’s faculty and student body. “Learning design from a single point of view is not only myopic, but counterproductive,” says Mathews Hale. “If one of our main jobs at ArtCenter is to prepare artists and designers to excel in the real world, then we need to make sure they feel encouraged to bring their fully array of thoughts and experiences to the table.”
By inclusivity, Mathews Hale continues, she also means women. “There’s been a lack of women and people of color in leadership roles in our business,” she says. “Top positions have traditionally been filled by white men. That needs to change. Creating a more inclusive and equitable environment at ArtCenter, where members of the next generation of artists and designers are discovering the industry and envisioning how they’ll fit into the field, is a great place to start.” At the time of her election as Chair, President Lorne Buchman said that Mathews Hale is the perfect person to lead the College into the future: “Su has a bold sensibility. She’s ready to address new challenges and ensure that ArtCenter is providing students with the skills and resources they need to lead with intention in a rapidly changing world. We’re lucky to have her as our new Board Chair.”