Photos: Ezekiel Wheeler / John Anthony Sahs

Art Center Car Classic Provides Inspiration

Inspiration is hard to come by these days. Sure, there is enough Internet to go around for everybody but finding inspiration through the milk stained glasses of saturated SEO keyword searches proves to be more and more difficult. Multiply this headache by 1000 while you are a student in design school and you suddenly realize you have zero time to get out and see the world you hope to influence at some point in your career.

So why wouldn’t the school you’re paying for bring the outside world to you? Case and point, Art Center College of Design does this by holding a car show every year. Now that by itself doesn’t sound impressive and Art Center knows this. So to spice it up they do things a tad differently. Take, for example, the cars they choose to display. They look for vehicles that will truly inspire the students and educate the public. Entrants are required to submit photos and stories surrounding the history, condition and uniqueness to the overall theme the Car Classic committee sets. This year ‘Visions of the Future’ attracted and eclectic array of vehicles and VIP guests.

Entering the show grounds, held each year on the Hillside Campus’ Sculpture Garden overlooking the valley where the famous Pasadena Rose Bowl rests, you are overwhelmed by the diversity of vehicles on display. A pristine Jaguar XK-E Series One can be flanked by an Acura NSX, which in turn can be the backdrop for a Morgan Three-Wheeler. Even still, that car can help frame the details of a Cosworth Can-AM racecar. Venture around a little more and you’ll stumble upon experimental aircraft, iconic movie cars; even the manufacturers themselves will bring out a historic or contemporary concept car from their secretive collections.

A unique addition to this year’s show was a casual conversation between GM’s Vice President of Global Design, Ed Welburn; former Tonight Show and current Leno’s Garage host, Jay Leno; and Orville Selders, perhaps one the last handful of designers who worked for Mr. Earl (aka Harley Earl). The three waxed philosophically about the inspirational designs of a bygone era, the work ethic instilled within them and their appreciation for a school like Art Center to produce corporate studio-ready designers. One interesting fact you may not have known is that Ed Welburn’s father was a mechanic and, at 97, still as happy to be around the car industry — especially with his son at the helm of one of the largest automakers in the world.

Several discussion panels take place during the event, and this year Chris Bangle, Tisha Johnson and Clay Dean sat down to discuss the future of design as it lives today, compared to their visions as a student. They commented on how design will play a crucial role in society moving forward.

Chris Bangle, who now runs his own design consultancy Chris Bangle Associates in Italy, naturally took on his Yoda-esque persona and left the audience in deep contemplation, especially the current students attending the school. He told them how it’s their responsibility to push the boundaries of design; to “finally take that leap and challenge design leadership to inspire those around you.”

GM’s Design Director of Global Advanced Design, Clay Dean, shared some insight into how he runs his studios, saying: “What I like to do is find these guys and put them into my studio. The guys that help provoke my designers from breaking out of their molds and start to ask ‘We can do that now?’ That’s what I want in my studio… You have to be fearless in exploring the boundaries of the unknown.”

Tisha Johnson, Senior Interior Designer at Volvo Car Corporation, had the same sentiment: “I want to see things that upset me and disturb me and are outrageous. That to me is a good sign; it means they are shaking the tree… I always found it interesting having gone to Art Center that you are taught to be critical, and then at times you are asked not to be critical about certain things. That’s crap, you’re taught to be critical, so naturally you’re going to be constantly evaluating your work, your industry and your world.”


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