Business of Art & Design is a one of a kind program that blends creative thinking with solid business strategy.

Here’s the elevator pitch for the Ringling College Business of Art and Design (BOAD) program: Imagine a business school within an art school.But BOAD students don’t work in a silo. Even as they build a foundation in managerial accounting, finance, and statistics, spreadsheets overlap with blank canvases. Through classes in drawing and 3D design and cross-disciplinary collaborations with filmmakers, game artists, and illustrators, BOAD students come to understand the creative process inside and out.

“We prepare our students to be connectors,” says Dr. Wanda Chaves, BOAD’s founding faculty member in 2008 and current interim department head. “If a company wants to be more creative, our students know how to define it and make it happen.”

Dr. Wanda Chaves on Creativity + Business

We asked a few questions about this revolutionary program from the Interim Head of the Ringling College Business of Art and Design Department, Dr. Chaves. See what she has to say about the program’s goals and successes, as well as the future of creativity in the world of business.

Q: What kinds of students come to Ringling College to major in BOAD?

A: Our students have a passion for both the world of business and the world of art and design. They want to be business people who manage creative people, projects,
and companies.

Q: You were part of the founding of this major. What was the thinking behind its creation and its evolution?

A: Yes, I was the first person hired to lead the department and to be the first faculty member. The program was created to address the great need that creative companies have for business people who understand the creative process and know how to work with artists and designers from many different backgrounds. It was designed to prepare students to be connectors—serving at the intersection of art, design, and the people needed to bring a creative vision to life.

Q: What jobs do graduates land?

A: Our graduates have gone on to work at Disney Animation, Pixar, Feld Entertainment, JibJab, Creative Arts Limited, Moose Studios, Steel House, The Studio, Carbon 8, The Zebra, American Custom Yachts, Sun Hydraulics, Pyper Young, WINK TV, and other creative organizations. They become producers, production coordinators, project managers, account coordinators, junior product managers, campaign services associates, to name a few.

Q: What do you see for the future of business and creativity?

A: Revolutionary organizations such as Airbnb, Netflix, Amazon, Uber, and Tesla have redefined the world of business by building smart design into every aspect of their business, including not only their products but their competitive strategies, organizational structure and culture, work processes, interactions with customers, and how they work with and manage their people. Every organization, regardless of their size or industry, needs to continuously find new ways to weave creativity into the very fabric of their business if they are to thrive, and in many cases survive, in this ever-changing and demanding marketplace.

A passionate teacher, Chaves arranges opportunities to apply classroom learning to real-world problem solving. Three years ago, Cirque du Soleil charged a BOAD class with extending the magic of the show beyond the time frame of the performance. Students brainstormed how to make the company’s online site, concessions, and follow-up on social media more engaging—and even pitched an interactive phone app to open during the show. “Later, when I went to Toruk, I was thrilled to see Cirque trying out an app,” says Chaves. “Cirque executives have told me that Ringling students bring inspiration to them. Millennials think differently.”

Cirque has already invited BOAD classes back three more times—to reimagine the fan newsletter, dream up a Cirque nightclub experience, and envision entertainment of the future. “Cirque has a unique art, and our students understand beauty,” says Chaves. “But its shows compete with everything from theater to major league sports. To sell tickets, Cirque has to stay fresh, unique, and cutting edge. Cirque is all about the marriage of business and art—BOAD students get that.”

Learning by Doing

Students like Yu Ting “Tina” Li (Business of Art and Design, ’18) say they value the hands-on projects and off-campus collaborations with industry professionals. Back in middle school, teachers had noted Tina’s artistic ability, but her mother urged both Tina and her twin sister to study business. A teacher at her American school in Costa Rica pointed Tina toward BOAD.

Now she and her twin, in business school elsewhere, compare notes. “She’s in huge classes,” says Tina, “and everything’s out of the textbook.” One of a handful of BOAD majors, Tina says she knows all her professors and enjoys classes with minors and other students from across the creative spectrum. “We learn how to work with different kinds of people,” she says. She’ll practice that in her thesis project, managing production of a Ringling student film.

Nuts and Bolts and Imagination

Devin Houston (Business of Art and Design, ’18) also chose BOAD because it offers “the perfect storm” of business and blue-sky thinking. After community college, he investigated film programs and realized that he didn’t want the same degree as 40,000 other students. “Nobody had resources anywhere as comprehensive as Ringling’s,” he says. He started as a freshman—BOAD major, photography minor—thrilled to learn Illustrator, InDesign, and all the other art tools that business schools don’t teach. That first year, he teamed up in a BOAD class with an interior designer and an animator to enhance the children’s experience at the Dali Museum.

“I had to learn design, and now I know I will pay designers well and treat them with respect,” he says with a laugh.

Devin once wrote in a paper that art cannot survive without business, and business cannot survive without art. He sees a boundless future bridging the two. “Artists can be fickle, and revision is hard,” he says. “I like to incubate environments that nurture creative work, where people can be successful.”

Flexible and Forward Thinking

Like Devin, Jennie Charles-Santos (Business of Art and Design, ’18) believes “BOAD can take me anywhere.” Her father always encouraged her to dream big, and she plans to launch her own cosmetics line. She transferred from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago eager to work with companies like L’Oréal and Disney, as well as local nonprofits. “Everything is going to help, one way or another,” she says.

The broad range of projects and skills prepares graduates for a mercurial marketplace. Keith Nielsen (Business of Art and Design, ’15) says the program trained him to think strategically. “There’s always a why,” he says. A creative freelancer/costume designer, he tries to maintain a broad portfolio and refresh contacts. “You never know when a door is going to open.”

Most of all, BOAD students and alums appreciate the generosity of Dr. Chaves and other instructors. “They’ve always been really interested in helping me,” says Keith. “The relationship didn’t end with graduation.”

By Sylvia Whitman

To learn more about Business of Art + Design, visit our website.