The president and CEO of Laguna College of Art & Design shares his plans for the campus, new partnerships and a fundraising campaign.
By Sharon Stello
As the new president and CEO of Laguna College of Art & Design, Steve Brittan has been leading the campus for a little over a year. Now that he’s settled in, Brittan recently sat down to talk about the campus, his love for this art-focused town and plans for collaborations with other organizations in the area.
Brittan took the helm in September 2021, following the retirement of longtime LCAD President Jonathan Burke in late 2020. Brittan, who grew up in South Africa, earned degrees in architecture, practiced in this field and also taught this discipline as well as art and design. Before coming to Laguna, he served as president of the Studio Arts College International in Florence, Italy—which closed during the pandemic—where he established many partnerships with colleges in the U.S., including LCAD.
Although he has lived in many destinations around the world, Brittan considers Laguna to be a special place. “One of the things that really resonated with me here is the quality of the light and being at the coastline,” he says. “The beauty of nature around us is particularly striking. [Also,] Laguna Beach as a city has a very strong community and a sense of pride and a history, [plus,] … at its roots, the arts.”
Brittan is impressed by LCAD’s quality education and the fact that it brings together the art and design worlds, offering a diverse range of courses and majors, from drawing, painting and sculpting to animation, graphic design and video game art.
He plans to take an already strong college to the next level by launching a philanthropic campaign to support the new LCAD Creative Mosaic Scholarship Fund to help first-generation students and those from underprivileged backgrounds and underrepresented communities attend the college. He also seeks to establish partnerships with museums, universities and nonprofits to help students gain experience while developing creative solutions for the community.
LCAD has started working on a project called All of Us with Dr. Hoda Anton-Culver, a UC Irvine professor of medicine who is studying breast cancer. LCAD’s students will be combing through her team’s data, Brittan explains, “looking at ways they can convert that information into visual communication and then help the scientists to see things that they may have missed” and raise awareness about cancer.
Students are also designing a new logo and visitor experience plan for John Wayne Airport with a $50,000 federal grant awarded by the airport. And more collaborations may be on the horizon.
Students also face a different world than in decades past, stepping back onto campus on the heels of a pandemic and with anxiety about climate change and political tensions in the U.S. and around the globe.
“We want to make art and design inseparable from planet health,” he says. “… Creators [and] artists have historically played important roles in times of stress and change. And designers have now got an opportunity or are already demonstrating their value in problem-solving in a creative way in all areas.”
Laguna Beach Magazine: Why is it important to collaborate across disciplines?
Steve Brittan: Because the world is changing so much, I think the way in which we educate our students in this generation, we cannot think in silos anymore, we cannot teach in silos. … Even in the Renaissance, … art and science were not mutually exclusive—they informed each other. … You can see the value of bringing what were typically opposite disciplines together, now working to the benefit of both.
Why is art important for society?
SB: Throughout time, humans have expressed the world around them in ways that are a reflection of life and culture and sometimes even an expression of the difficulties that we face. … Artists play a critical role in being the conscience of and expressing society and also … provoking new ways of thinking and doing things and not being afraid of being critical.
Do you have a favorite artwork?
SB: I’m very agnostic when it comes to favorite artworks. … [but] there’s a wonderful exhibition that I’m dying to see—that’s William Kentridge, my fellow South African artist, at The Broad in Los Angeles. … I really have admired [him] for many years for his intellect and for his ability to tell a story … in a very powerful and poetic way about the complexity of human life.
Do you have a favorite place in town?
SB: I love Laguna Art Museum. I think it’s really a special place that’s moving with the times, that has its traditions, but, like LCAD, recognizes the tradition but is also a contemporary museum of art and is showcasing where the arts are moving.