Getting some heat and giving it, too

I know that right about now, Paula Wallace, the Savannah College of Art and Design’s president, is probably getting a lot of heat, a lot of criticism - first, for expanding the school to Atlanta, then, barely a year later, for taking over the venerable Atlanta College of Art, some 100 years old. Yes, it takes chutzpah to move that quickly, that boldly, but as we all know, if you don’t, someone else will. And in today’s dog-eat-dog business climate where art equals money, you have to keep moving.

So hang tough, President Wallace. Stick to your guns. What you’re doing is brilliant. And sometimes brilliant acts are misunderstood.

Like in 1993, when you and your earlier husband, Richard Rowan, SCAD’s first president, decided to bring that law suit against the School of Visual Arts - BEFORE the New York school got the relocation go-ahead from Georgia’s Non-Public Post-Secondary Education Commission. Before they enrolled their first student, hired their first faculty member or held their first class in the old Standard Oil Building on Drayton Street.

I’m referring to the lawsuit where you contended SVA was conspiring to take over SCAD and trying to harm your relationship with the banks, the newspapers, the accrediting agencies.

And we thought President Bush invented the preemptive strike. Not so! Another brilliant move, how you and Richard didn’t waste a minute. I’m sure David Rhodes, SVA’s president, didn’t know what hit him. Come to think of it, the whole time I saw him here he looked dazed and confused. The nerve of thinking he could waltz into Savannah and start an art school, just because there are five in New York.

I’m glad the Atlanta College of Art didn’t react that way, aren’t you? It’s much better like this. No ugly lawsuits, no community recrimination, no traveling hither and yon getting depositions, no uproar from members of your own board. How embarrassing when ex-board members Pat Conroy and Joyce Maynard, two pretty well-known writers you snagged to represent the college, wrote then-Georgia Governor Zell Miller to complain of possible wiretaps and private investigators tailing them.

I think you were right to add them to the $103 million lawsuit you filed against SVA. Things like that can really hurt a school’s reputation.

It must not have felt good when your former vice president of community affairs, Gordon Varnedoe, turned around and filed a countersuit against you, alleging a similar pattern of surveillance and harassment. Am I right?

Poor SVA. How were they to know what was going on in Savannah in 1992, when nearly 1,000 students cast ballots voting for a proposed constitution guaranteeing what they called “basic rights in areas like speech, privacy, due process and assembly,” followed by a few uppity graduate students who wanted to form a Graduate Student Association. More nerve!

At the time, some of us thought that was quite a reach when you insinuated SVA’s move to Savannah was connected to the dissatisfaction of a few faculty members. But like I said, you can’t be too careful when it comes to business.

No wonder Rhodes and SVA decided in early 1996 to settle out of court. Except for the main characters -- who are not talking -- no one knows anything about the terms. All Rhodes would mutter was something about ”Southern justice.”

ýemember when SVA wanted to see your finances to prove something or other, then the Morning News got hold of some documents showing what deep water you were in financially? You owed a bunch of money to a bunch of banks. It was a real house of cards. Except no one wanted to call in their notes. Because by that time we had become dependent on what you were bringing to the city.

Right about now, I’m sure George Bush can relate. The United States owes money to just about everyone in the world, but no one wants to call us on it. They’re afraid of what might happen to the world order if the U.S. collapses.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what Rhodes and company thinks of all this coziness in Atlanta.

Fortunately, time heals all. And memories are short. Think about it. When all that unpleasantness with SVA was going on, current SCAD seniors were - what? - 11 years old? The world was a different place in 1994.

So give everyone at the Atlanta College of Art a chance. They’ll get used to you and your ways. They’ll learn to love the quarter system - instead of semesters. They’ll shape up. Who needs tenure when you’ve got a job?

E-mail Jane at

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