“We must be... ready for the future, to be open to the new and untried.” —Don Kubly, July 1969
“All of life is change and adapting to change. In educating young people that is even more evident. We must be willing to be flexible, to continue to improve on the past, to be ready for the future, to be open to the new and untried.”
This sentiment, expressed more than 40 years ago by Art Center’s second president, reflects the leadership style of Don Kubly. Between the remarkable achievements realized during his tenure as Art Center President (1969–85), and his contributions as an alumnus, faculty member, mentor and beloved friend, Kubly has left an indelible mark on the Art Center community.
Kubly’s involvement with Art Center spanned 47 years—first as an advertising student beginning in 1939, when he was one of six students from across the country to receive a four-year art scholarship. In 1941, Kubly interrupted his studies to enlist in the Army Air Corps, where he served as an A-36 fighter pilot, completed 82 missions and was promoted to the rank of Major. After the war, Kubly returned to Art Center, where he met his future wife, Sally, who was also studying advertising. Following graduation in 1949, he soon launched a successful career as an award-winning art director with N.W. Ayer and Son in Philadelphia. In 1963, he was asked to return to Art Center to teach advertising and to prepare to succeed founder E.A. “Tink” Adams as president.
Early on in Kubly’s tenure as president, he oversaw several watershed moments: attaining nonprofit status for the school, thereby opening the door to philanthropic support; and receiving accreditation, enabling the awarding of degrees. To reflect these historic changes, Kubly changed Art Center’s name from the Art Center School to Art Center College of Design. Kubly also established majors in Fine Art, Environmental Design and Film, created a new graduate program and guided Art Center’s enrollment growth from approximately 700 students to over 1,200 full-time students.
To accommodate this growth, Kubly recognized the need for expanded educational facilities. For the next several years, he dedicated himself to finding Art Center a new home. In 1972 he oversaw the purchase of the 167-acre Pasadena property that would become Hillside Campus, and selected Craig Ellwood Associates to design it. At the 1976 dedication, where the now-iconic steel-and-glass structure was publicly unveiled, Kubly remarked, “It is not the architecture of a college that makes it successful, but what is in it.”
Highlights from the rest of his tenure include the development of a European campus in Vevey, Switzerland, and expanding corporate sponsorships. Following Kubly’s retirement in 1985, he continued to offer his insights on a variety of College projects, and with his wife, Sally, established the Kubly Family Scholarship to benefit students.
The Art Center community, together with Kubly’s family and friends, gathered for a public celebration of Kubly’s life on July 30 at the College, a testament to the large imprint he made on people’s lives. An inspirational leader who influenced many, Kubly lived life to the fullest and will be greatly missed.