SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace and student ambassadors celebrate the university’s 40th anniversary on SCAD Day —an open house for hundreds of prospective students from around the world. The VW Bug pictured here was designed by SCAD graduate Emily Isabella (B.F.A., fibers, 2008).

SCAD turns 40: A flashback in photos

More than 40 years ago, a twenty-something teacher at Sarah Smith Elementary School had a big idea. She wanted to start her own school, a college maybe, where students who had a passion for art and design could thrive. She had hoped to open the school in Atlanta but decided her hometown had more than enough educational institutions. So Paula Wallace and her family headed to Savannah to open an arts college that was fueled by their dreams and funded by her parents’ retirement account. 

The Savannah College of Art and Design greeted 71 students in the fall of 1978. Today SCAD has over 55,000 students and alumni. Wallace’s mission was to develop an institution that is professionally focused, intellectually rigorous, and student-centered through academic programs at four campuses on three continents, as well as an accredited online eLearning environment. In 2005, Wallace fulfilled her desire to open a school in Atlanta with the establishment of SCAD’s Atlanta campus. Here is a look back in photos of how the global university has evolved (All images courtesy of SCAD). 

Paula Wallace was teaching elementary school in the Atlanta Public Schools system when she decided to found a new school, an art and design college called the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). As she wrote in her 2015 memoir, “The Bee and the Acorn”  -- “By teaching young students how to create new stories and songs and art, I’d begun to create my own new story.”

Preston Hall (Poetter Hall) 1980-1981

Poetter Hall, the first SCAD building, was acquired by the university in 1979. The building dates back to 1892 when it was the Savannah Volunteer Guard Armory. Poetter Hall, located on in Savannah, is named in honor of Paula’s parents, SCAD co-founders May and Paul Poetter.

The first SCAD graduating class in May 1982 included eight students who earned baccalaureate degrees. SCAD now enrolls nearly 15,000 students from more than 100 countries and offers more than 100 academic degree programs across its locations in Atlanta and Savannah; Hong Kong; Lacoste, France; and online via SCAD eLearning.

This early iteration of SCAD’s mascot, Art T. Bee, dates to 1984. As Wallace wrote in SCADArchitecture of a University -- “The bee represents more than endurance and movement—it represents the miracle that is SCAD. Bees are known to defy expectations. With their small wings and relatively hefty bodies, they should not be able to fly, yet they have proven to be among the most productive creatures in the world. Bees also make honey and they never stand still, much like SCAD.”

The Queen Anne-Victorian style Ivy Hall shown when acquired in 2004 (left) and at present (right) was designed by noted architect Gottfried L. Norrman in 1883. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Ivy Hall currently serves as a literary hub for distinguished scholars-in-residence and Ivy Hall Writers Series guests including Margaret Atwood, Colson Whitehead, Bret Easton Ellis, Gary Shteyngart, Augusten Burroughs and Karen Russell. 

SCAD Atlanta opened its doors in 2005 with 77 students in one building. These students pictured in 2006 were among the first local graduates. Today, SCAD Atlanta has over 2,500 students. A year after its opening, SCAD Atlanta held its first Open Studio Night. Open Studio Night is now an annual event, showcasing of the best painting, photography, illustration, printmaking and sculpture by SCAD students, faculty and alumni, with all funds going to SCAD students, directly or through scholarships.


Over the years, SCAD has introduced a number of innovations including SCADpro, a design shop that combines the brainpower of talented students, alumni and professors to produce creative business solutions for influential brands, including NASA, BMW, Target, L'Oréal, Amazon, Delta, Disney and Google. The SCAD Digital Media Center (pictured as originally acquired at left and at present on right), which opened in Fall 2009, houses academic majors within the School of Digital Media and the School of Entertainment Arts, including animation, interactive design and game development, motion media design, visual effects, and television producing. The 60,000-square-foot facility, formerly the WXIA building, enables students to work and learn in a real-world studio environment.

Since its inception in 2010, the SCAD Buzz Bus program, established by SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace, has positively impacted the lives of more than 15,000 children. The SCAD Buzz Bus makes frequent surprise visits to local schools and other youth-centered organizations in Atlanta and Savannah to promote art education through workshops, readings, musical performances and art-supply donations.

SCADpad embraced the “tiny homes” concept, as implemented in the SCAD Atlanta parking garage. Students from twelve programs worked collaboratively to design and build three units the size of a parking spot, and SCAD supporters had the chance to live in the spaces during a 90-day period. SCADpad won the 2014 AIA Georgia Design Award and World Architecture News’ Urban Design Award.

SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film celebrates fashion as a universal language, garments as important conduits of identity, and film as an immersive and memorable medium. Located at 1600 Peachtree St. NW, SCAD FASH brings international designers to welcome visitors of all ages to engage with dynamic exhibitions, captivating films and educationally enriching events. SCAD also hosts, SCAD aTVfest  which is devoted to the latest in design, creativity and innovation in television and media production. aTVfest draws industry-leading producers, directors, writers and actors to SCAD venues in midtown Atlanta.

SCAD Art Sales is a full-service art consultancy and online gallery platform featuring work by over 300 SCAD artists. Recent SCAD Art Sales clients include The Art Collection at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Facebook’s Atlanta offices, and Sotherly Hotels. SCAD Art Sales operates showrooms in both Savannah and Atlanta. 

About the Author

Nedra Rhone
Nedra Rhone
Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.
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