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‘Creative economy’ excites new MICA president

Samuel Hoi chosen to lead Maryland art college

Samuel Hoi has done a lot of bouncing around.

The Hong Kong native has studied everything from psychology to French to law. He’s lived on the West Coast, the East Coast and in Honolulu, Hawaii. There was also a three-year stint in Paris.

But it was through those transitions that Hoi discovered his passion for art and developed his vision for a “creative economy” — an inspired yet pragmatic philosophy that impressed the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Board of Trustees and led them to name Hoi as the next president of the 188-year-old Baltimore school.

Hoi, the current president of Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, will begin his MICA presidency July 1, the board announced Monday. He will succeed President Fred Lazarus IV, who will have led the school for 36 years when he steps down this summer — the longest presidential tenure in Maryland.

More administrative turnover might not be far off. Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Raymond V. Allen has committed to staying at MICA for Hoi’s first full academic year to help with the transition, but Hoi told The Daily Record in an interview that Allen intends to retire after that (a spokeswoman for the school said later that Allen “has not announced his plans” beyond Hoi’s first year).

In the past few decades, MICA has become increasingly visible and influential in the Mount Vernon area, and Hoi said the opportunity to continue cultivating that relationship made the offer to come to Baltimore particularly attractive.

Community involvement is central to his vision of what a modern arts education should look like, he said. Hoi champions the idea of a “creative economy” that provides ample opportunities for artists of all stripes to fully participate and contribute to the economy in tangible ways.

Under Hoi’s direction, Otis puts out an annual report on the size and impact of the creative sectors in Los Angeles.

“We have entered an age of idea and innovation in which the creative economy is going to be more prominent than ever, in which artists and designers have incredible possibilities to reinvent their role and their value in society,” Hoi said. “And what excites me is that MICA has already positioned itself on this cutting edge, so I feel like I’m joining a like-minded community.”

Lazarus, who announced his retirement in April of last year, is credited with improving MICA’s reputation, programs, enrollment and endowment. U.S. News and World Report ranked MICA’s Master’s of Fine Arts program No. 7 in the country (tied with two other schools).

In selecting Hoi, the school’s board cited his efforts at Otis to design a curriculum that emphasizes community engagement among students and injects a dose of pragmatism into their education.

“[The curriculum] allows our students to exercise their talent in a way that allows them to have passionate and sustainable careers while also making the world better,” Hoi said. “I truly believe in the purity of art practice, but I also feel very strongly that, especially in the 21st century, we cannot afford to have art and design be perceived as a silo practice, for people to have the misperception of artists as starving artists. … It’s the responsibility of the college to create a curriculum that gives students the broadest spectrum of experiences and most powerful skill sets possible.”

With Hoi at the helm, enrollment at Otis has increased by 34 percent, operating resources have more than doubled and the endowment has more than tripled. When he leaves Los Angeles this summer, he will have been president for 14 years.

Fredye Gross, the chair of the search committee and former MICA board chair, said Hoi articulated a “compelling” vision for the Baltimore school, which enrolls nearly 3,500 students, including those in noncredit courses.

“[Hoi’s] years of experience leading colleges of art and design have put him at the center of the international conversation on how to educate artists for the twenty-first century,” Gross said in a statement.

But Hoi didn’t develop that educational philosophy overnight.

In 1975, at 17 years old, Hoi immigrated to Hawaii with his family before going on to study French and psychology at Columbia College in New York. He graduated within three years, in 1980, and went right into Columbia Law School. During his second year, however, he began questioning his “lack of passion” for the law. He began applying to art schools even as he studied for the bar exam.

Though he passed the New York bar, he enrolled in the Parsons School of Design in 1983, and later took a top position at Parsons’ Paris campus. From 1991 to 2000, he served as dean of the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington D.C.

“I discovered that art had always been in my life, but because of my family upbringing, I never considered it a vocational possibility,” he said. “… The Chinese have a mindset both idealistic and pragmatic at the same time,” which he said now influences his approach to art education.

Hoi might have taken his time finding his passion but said he’s confident he found his calling.

“Any institution I go into, I am prepared to dedicate myself to it,” Hoi said. “So I don’t foresee a short tenure at MICA at all.”