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Building Culture

By mehera o'brien on October 18, 2010

Categories: Academics

I can't believe a month has already passed. I don't know exactly how that happened. Since I last wrote, it's been a whirlwind of administrative activity (boring and frustrating, but a necessary evil when in start-up mode) and educational activity (thrilling). 

The security alarm proceeded to go off every night between 1:30 and 4:45 am, with me on the receiving end of the dispatcher's phone call. There were two mini-tornados in Brooklyn and, apparently, we have a drainage issue. We only had one VGA cable (now we have four) and apparently for anyone's laptop to show up on the monitor in the main studio, their settings need to be 1024x768 (stretched!!) with a mirrored display. At least the vending machine guy has, so far, been a doll.

But to keep it in perspective, this is _really_ unimportant stuff. And Jordan, my sidekick at the school, and I manage to find many of the little dramas quite funny in the end. 

So the last month has also brought tremendous excitement. I hired 17 teachers for the DUMBO Studio. I have 50 students from all over the world and from nearly all the Miami Ad School global campuses. I even have one Graphic Design student and two Photography students to complement the majority of Art & Copy kids. I have another 31 in the city on Greenhouse and Internship, with another 6 or so teachers at these agencies. We've had two awesome guest lectures, a private tour of a top tier photo studio, a lunch + learn and a good old fashioned booze fest. This past weekend, we hosted two workshops for a NYC-based industry organization. 

The most amazing part of the experience has been to see the studio come to life. We're literally designing an organization. I feel it living and breathing every day. I monitor it, hoping the cold weather that's just set in doesn't make it sick before it gathers strength. It's like watching a plant grow, and without an innate green thumb, I stand by holding my breath excitedly waiting to see if it'll work. 

During orientation I set cultural guidelines. I told the students what I hoped for the place. It included freedom to complain, but only with constructive feedback. It included an open door policy. A spirit of entrepreneurship. A desire to create a cultural tribe. The students have started to come and tell me what they think, and what they need. They make thoughtful suggestions, think of things from a different perspective. They challenge me, without being mean. One or two have inadvertently provoked my strict side. Another one appreciates that I'm a smart ass, like him. 

I'm realizing that some of the operational stuff is just not my strength. I'm not bad at it per say, but it's not my sweet spot. But cultivating culture. That, so far, is working. And to watch it come to life a little bit every day – in the classroom, in the work, in the people themselves – makes me smile broadly. 



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This all sounds very exciting. The plan is to come and do my Portfolio in Dumbo in January (if you'll have me).

I'm loving the sound of how fresh it all sounds.

Good luck with this quarter.


Omigod! I love the passion and excitement coming from you. I've been looking at the MAS for a couple years now and wanting to apply, esp if I get to go to school in Brooklyn. Do you know when it might open as a school?


I'm afraid we're only a Quarter Away program still. We're hoping to open full enrollment in future, but I don't know when we'll be able to. Hopefully soon-ish.

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