Hamilton Hall, The University of the Arts

It was 36 years ago today, that I walked across the stage, what is now Miller Theater, and received my diploma as a member of the first graduation class of The University of the Arts. I had entered the Philadelphia College of Art (PCA) and during my time in Philly, the school grew to incorporate the performing arts college and became the first university in America dedicated to the professional pursuits of the arts. 

In today’s business climate it may seem to counter-intuitive to acknowledge such a breadth of experience in the industry but I am proud of the career that I have carved out over these past decades. I am also thankful to be an alumni of the great UArts and former resident of Center City. 

Over the course of my career I have been fortunate to have worked in every creative role within my discipline and then some. I have been part of great teams and have had the responsibility of leading some as well. We have garnered some of the requisite awards, but more importantly to me was the successful solution to my company’s and client’s business needs. 

Sometimes it was brand awareness, other times it was new market opportunities, while others was purely driven by sales requirements and my career in design was instrumental in collaborating across disciplines to deliver results of which my team could proud. 

I have worked for some tremendous leaders over the course of my career as well as a litany of incompetent, petty individuals and they all taught me valuable lessons. I won’t say that I learned the most from the bad bosses, although I did learn much, because early in my career I had the best boss anyone could ever imaging. 

He had a stable of talent and a big responsibility yet he had the wisdom, compassion, and experience to orchestrate the team to deliver their best, no matter what the situation. He knew each of us and worked to leverage our skills and passions on projects that fits those metrics. 

I learned how to be a leader from Elliott Schwarz. He was my first “real” boss when I worked at The Walt Disney Company and although I have had some fine bosses he was a true mentor who taught me what leadership meant; not through words and dictates, but by his actions in his role. I continue to use him as an example of leadership in my vocation and avocations.

From those days of having an office in literal theme parks and being on tour for those visiting the Disney-MGM Studios through today I have been able to work at some of the biggest brands in the world. I have moved my family half-way across the country multiple times for Hallmark, IBM, and more learning more about myself, my craft, and the industries where I have applied that skill. 

I have worked in: CPG, toy design, food products, fashion design, film & television production, interactive design through web design and now enterprise level product design. There is not a creative vertical that I have not spent time over these past 36 years which I haven’t been able to make a direct impact as well as learn the complexities of those industries. 

I as look ahead to the years before me with industries in turmoil I am filled with exhilaration and dread for what lies ahead. The technology we have today allows a single individual the capabilities of what would have required a team of dozens when I graduated. This offers a fantastic means for small designers and shops to compete on a global level.

However, it also means constant learning of new technologies, software, and the benefits and challenges they present to our industry. No challenge is bigger than the current threat artificial intelligence (AI) presents to the entire creative industry. Our peers in the film industry have met that challenge head-on, while those in the design world are willingly placing ourselves in harms way by actively advocating for these technologies; going so far as to state that we must accept it. 

I imagine I will spend the next stage of my career in two ways: 1.) continuing to work in an industry I love, and 2.) fighting for our rights against the tech-bros who push an agenda that includes the largest theft of art in the history. 

If you want to talk about art in general or the industry specifically and swap stories, I would love to connect. If you are just beginning your career in the arts and have questions feel free to connect with me; use the phrase “Furness Hall” in your request and I will gladly accept the invitation. 

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