Art Center Summit: Innovation & Design Can Influence Change

Aptera Three-Wheeled Electric Car
Art Center College of Design has historically provided the worldwide auto industry with more designers than any other institution. Graduates from this Southern California college have literally influenced the style and functionality of modern vehicles and will certainly continue to do so. Green Car editors have been to Art Center’s two Pasadena campuses – both located near Los Angeles – and have found the creativity there to be evident in many forms, from transportation, environmental, entertainment, product, and graphic design to film, fine art, illustration, and photography and imaging.
Not content with playing a passive role, Art Center has in recent years devoted time and energy to its vision that transportation can and must become sustainable. Tangible evidence of this commitment is the recent third annual Art Center Summit, Expanding the Vision of Sustainable Mobility, which continued this institution’s ongoing dialogue on the future of sustainable transportation.
Featuring 55 speakers and attendees from 16 countries, the Art Center Summit focused on an array of subjects topical to today’s imperatives. These included presentations and discussions on energy, mobility habits, visions for dynamic cities, and the future of flight. Policy-changing strategies and sustainability advances in other industries such as health care were also part of the agenda.
Volkswagen W1 electric car model
“When you have a good idea and you want to change the world, you want to start hanging out with people a lot smarter than you,” commented John Waters, President and CEO of Bright Automotive, in his Summit presentation. Clearly, the Art Center Summit was the place for attendees and presenters to do this since the collective brain trust on hand was impressive.
Among the 55 speakers were R. James Woolsey, Venture Partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners and Former Director of the CIA; Andy Karsner, former Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy; Amory Lovins, Chairman and Chief Scientist at Rocky Mountain Institute; Bill Reinert, National Manager for Advanced Vehicle Technology at Toyota Motor Sales USA; Bryan Nesbitt, Vice President of Design at General Motors North America; and many others.
In his keynote address, Woolsey warned of the consequences of not shifting quickly away from oil dependence, sharing that “not only is three-quarters of the world’s oil in the hands of the Middle East and Russia,” but that “Al Qaeda has tried to go after it twice.” Karsner shared the need for new voices in Washington – including design – to bring about significant change. Lovins underscored the need for lightweighting vehicles to achieve greater efficiency. In a videotaped presentation, Rep. Ed Markey, Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, called for designers to become involved in developing a new strategy for mobility in the United States.
Art Center Summit's Executive Director, David Muyres
As the Art Center Summit's Executive Director, David Muyres, describes the mission, “It is not all about science, technology, and policy. People and consumers can play a big role in how fast the market moves towards new environmentally friendly ways of how we move around the planet. Design can help craft new exciting methods of transportation that are more sexy and desirable than what people use today. By making these new options more exciting and desirable the rate of change will be that much faster. And in today’s economic climate, everyone wins.”
Art Center has been an integral part of automotive design over its 78 year history. Even so, its staff point out that the country’s transportation system is far too dependent on cars and more options are needed. While automobiles are the primary method of getting around in the U.S., Art Center points out that it’s only the 5th or 6th most popular option in Europe and Asia where other options are readily accessible. The result is consumers who own fewer cars and have the flexibility to commute in more environmentally compatible ways.
Is there change afoot? Absolutely, and it’s apparent that Art Center College of Design aims to be a part of it.
“Designers want to address problems and go make stuff,” says Lloyd Walker, Adjunct Professor at Art Center and Principal of Precurve LLC. “So in 2007, when we heard that the automobile industry was on the verge of incredible disruptive change, we asked, ‘how can Art Center help?’” The ongoing Art Center Summit series is tangible proof of how that question is being answered.
Art Center Summit logo