President Lorne Buchman’s leadership at ArtCenter has greatly contributed to providing students with one of the best art and design educations in the nation.
BY: Sara Smola
It’s not unusual to see ArtCenter College of Design President Lorne Buchman riding his bike around Pasadena, sitting in on a class, perusing the student gallery for work to display in his office or simply walking around campus. Buchman makes a point of becoming a familiar sight around campus and, at orientations, welcomes new students to ArtCenter with the invitation: “When you see me in the hall, say hi!”
Buchman professes to be “happy beyond measure to be at ArtCenter,” Pasadena’s incubator of design innovation. He says, “I love Pasadena. It’s been a really great discovery for me. I like the great institutions that make up the character of the city. I like that ArtCenter exists with Caltech, Norton Simon, JPL, and All Saints Church and a variety of incredible organizations that are inspiring to me, rich in substance and important for community development and here we are, this great art and design school, world renowned and we are able to join hands with those organizations. These are great places and so we’re part of something that is exciting and certainly all of us are enhanced by the other.”
It wasn’t until 2009 that Buchman was wooed down to ArtCenter—although he admits he wasn’t sure a northerner coming to Southern California would be the right fit. Luckily for ArtCenter and the community, he decided “the job was too attractive and too exciting” to pass up.
Buchman grew up in Toronto, Canada, completing his graduate work and PhD at Stanford and ended up staying in Northern California for over 30 years. After serving on UC Berkley’s faculty for 10 years, a rather spontaneous series of events led to Buchman accepting the position of president of California College of the Arts.
Buchman’s path to administration was one that happened rather by chance, as though it was meant to be. Originally Buchman studied theater, though when asked if he envisioned himself as an actor, he self-deprecatingly responds, “I was trained as an actor but I never thought I was any good at it.” Though within just a few minutes of speaking with the poised and charismatic president, it’s hard to imagine the debonair Buchman being less than capable of charming any audience.
But despite Buchman’s modesty, he acknowledges that he is a theater director by training, and firmly believes his director training has serendipitously helped prepare him in his current role as president. “I often use that as the great metaphor,” says Buchman. “I can’t imagine better preparation for being a college president of this particular institution than being a theater director because it’s the same work for me. It’s working with the community. It’s having a sense of direction but then working with the community to understand the dimensions of that direction and the nuances and being able to let that direction evolve because you’re in conversation with the community.”
Despite his presidential title at ArtCenter, Buchman still teaches a class or two occasionally—though currently his teaching focus is shared with his vision to expand ArtCenter with new academic facilities and affordable student housing. “In my role as president I’m trying to lead ArtCenter through this process of growth and development that ultimately enhances its mission which is primarily that and all of the growth and all of the development you see is all in service to a great art and design education,” Buchman explains. “I like to think it’s almost the most important thing that I do, that is keeping the goal in mind, that this is always about great art and design education. It’s not about buildings, it’s not about fancy architecture details, it’s not about making a splash in the public that is somehow detached from our students, it’s always about art and design education. That’s really what my work is, in keeping and ensuring that is done right, and that’s what we’re servicing.”
His first priority remains the students and he is an advocate for maintaining and expanding upon a creative and diverse campus, of all income levels. “Some institutions have housing as a revenue stream, that’s not our plan. That’s not what we want to do,” Buchman asserts. “If we’re not helping the affordability of this education, I’m actually not interested in building housing here. [Our goal is that] we can offer this education to as many deserving and qualified students as possible.”
Buchman credits the students for continuously inspiring him. “These students are fantastic and I treasure them all. If I ever feel like I need to touch into my inspiration again, I walk through the halls of this institution and I go into studios, I go into classrooms and I see what these students are doing. And without fail, it brings me right back to this peak of inspiration. You can’t run a school in an office with the doors closed, because you just lose touch with it all. That’s another way I hope I’m remembered, that I created space that allowed people to have conversations about really tough questions. To be able to give permission to talk and address questions is also a different kind of leadership that I hope I’ve been able to bring.”