Lunch with Larry

No sooner had last Sunday’s column about the groundbreaking artistic collaboration between The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art and New York’s Baryshnikov Arts Center gone to press than we received an eye-popping magazine called Perspectives in the mail.  We simply couldn’t put it down until we had read every one of its superbly designed and written pages.

Perspectives, is a twice-yearly publication of the Ringling College of Art and Design issued to its various constituents—including alumni, donors, civic leaders and others. With its contemporary design and engaging content, you couldn’t ask for a more striking visual reminder that one of America’s pre-eminent schools of art and design is right here in our own backyard.

Browsing the magazine made us enormously proud of the trails the students, alumni, faculty and administration of Ringling College are blazing across the cutting-edge of visual communications; and caused us to ponder—yet again—how very much indebted we are to the enduring cultural legacy of the college’s namesakes, John and Mabel Ringling.

This week, we had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Larry Thompson, the school’s dynamic president for what will be ten years in July.  Over lunch near the school’s ever-expanding campus we heard an amazing account of where he has taken the college during his first decade at the helm; and where he plans to lead it during the second.

The future notwithstanding, we won’t have to wait for Ringling College to be regarded as one of the best schools of art and design in the country, if not the world.  Already it is mentioned in the same reverential tones as New York’s Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design; The Rhode Island School of Design and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.   However, in terms of its high-tech teaching capabilities, Ringling College pulls off something of an unexpected coup.   Turns out it is one of the most advanced users of computer technology in the world; rivaling such traditional academic juggernauts as M.I.T (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Cal Tech.   Its computer animation program alone is ranked first in North America by 3-D World Magazine.

Lest you get the impression that students at Ringling are more computer geeks than artists, Dr. Thompson puts the relationship between artist and technology into its proper perspective.  “Our graduates are artists first and foremost,” he says.  “The first year is about nothing else but drawing, painting and sculpting. Students are expected to master traditional artistic skills so that they can go on to use the computer as just another paint brush.”

Since joining Ringling, Dr. Thompson has ever-so-gradually increased the college’s enrollment; not simply by accepting more students; but by adding eight timely new majors to attract more of the world’s most gifted students from nearly all 50 states and 33 foreign countries. Has he been successful?

Each year, the prestigious Society of Illustrators recognizes top achievement within the field of illustration.  In its annual scholarship competition for 2009, the organization received something in the neighborhood of 5,600 artistic entries from the top visual arts schools and programs nationwide.  Only 145 of these entries—or a scant 2.6 percent—survived scrutiny by the jury and won their way into the final student exhibit.  Of these, 34 were by 27 students of Ringling College; meaning that nearly a quarter of all the works were created by Ringling students. The next closest school had less than half as many entries survive the cut.

“I am all about debunking the age-old myth of the starving artist,” Dr. Thompson says in something of a personal mission statement. “Graduates of Ringling become employed in their chosen careers faster than graduates of some of the nation’s toughest business schools.  Moreover, well-paying careers in art and design are expected to grow an additional 46% between now and 2016.”  Through its Career Services Program, graduates of Ringling College are eagerly recruited each year by more than 60 of the best-known names in business and entertainment—including Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony Image Works, Hallmark, American Greetings, CNN and The Discovery Channel, just to name a few.

Ringling College of Art and Design is much more than a career launch pad for some of the world’s most gifted young artists.   Being in the midst of Sarasota County’s urban core, it’s a vast community resource for anyone who wants to seriously flex their artistic muscles.  In addition to its 1,230 full time students (expected to grow to as many as 2,000 over the next 10 years), Ringling offers continuing studies and special programs in all art forms for more than 2,000 part-time students, ranging in age from eight to 88.  These programs are spread throughout the college’s main campus and its satellite campuses at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts—on North Longboat Key; and the Englewood Arts Center in the southernmost reaches of Sarasota County.

  • User Gravatar Pedro Perez
    June 26th, 2009

    As a Ringling College alum living and working in the creative field in Sarasota I am proud of the accomplishments and growth of the college. Dr. Thompson has allowed creatives to explore the many avenues available in today’s world. Design and technology are evolving and growing and the college is keeping its pace steady with the growth in the market.


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