In a Changing Design Industry, a Pratt Graduate Supports Future Creative Leaders

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Cesar Santalo, BFA Fine Arts (Drawing) ’95, has chaired the Pratt Alumni Miami Network since 2018 and was recently named Dean of the Eugene M. and Christine E. Lynn College of Communication and Design at Lynn University in Boca Raton, NA. Florida. In both roles, he is a leader in connecting generations of designers and advancing what a creative education can offer today.

In addition to being a longtime educator with previous positions at Miami Dade College, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and the University of Miami, Santalo is an award-winning visual communications designer, artist, and illustrator. His work ranges from Telemundo/NBC Universal on Quibi, to art direction for entertainment and programming at Univision, as well as illustration, design and animation for the Latin Grammys, Premios Lo Nuestro and the FIFA World Cup. Fifa. He also did the art direction for all major title sequences for WStudios powered by Univision, including Amar to Muerte, La Bella and Las Bestiasand The Piloto 2. For Giving Day, he shared Pratt’s impact on his career, why he remains connected to his alma mater, and the need to raise a new generation of creative leaders.

What inspires you to give to Pratt?
Pratt facilitated my dream of becoming an artist, artistic director, professor and dean. I’ve proudly worn Pratt’s name on my resume for years and also in my heart. I will carry on the great legacy of so many of our successful and forward-thinking alumni and faculty, because that is what we do. Giving back isn’t always about money but, more importantly, about your time. Studying leadership for many years is not about you; it’s about what you can do for others and how you can serve them better. I’m here to help the Pratt community in any way I can!

When you think back to your time at Pratt, what stood out to you the most?
The most memorable experience for me was living in Willoughby and sharing a flat with four other housemates. I was lucky to be surrounded by roommates who were so diligent in their respective fields. We all shared a passion for art and design, and marveled at everyone’s artistry and ability to stay up all night working. We spent our Friday evenings visiting some of the best museums and art exhibitions in the world, like the Basquiat Retrospective at the Whitney Museum and the Lucian Freud Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The diversity within our apartment was amazing and only enriched our friendships and late-night chats. Having this diversity around me has also helped me grow and become more creative and innovative as an artist. My first collage painting was created in my dorm room in my sketchbook. While I was working in my living room/bedroom, my roommates and other students would walk by and comment on my work while I was painting. I would take a break and visit my roommates to see what project they were working on for the class. Unlike many other schools in New York, we were blessed with a good-sized campus with its own dorms. I could work in the print shop all night and walk across the street to my apartment.

Another memorable time at Pratt was when I was an art teacher in the Saturday School Art Program with department chair Amy Brook Snider. This opportunity allowed me to engage and understand the local community and started my love for teaching.

How does being President of the Pratt Alumni Miami Network keep you connected to Pratt?
It allows me to connect with local alumni and Pratt networks across the country. The Alumni Network is a great resource for students and alumni who want to continue to have friends and connections in the design world. By meeting alumni of all ages, you learn something more about where Pratt was and where he is going. Students moving to Miami can contact us so they can attend our functions and begin to develop relationships with other alumni. Building relationships early in your professional career is everything. Some of our city’s best and brightest are Pratt graduates. These events provide opportunities outside of your daily relationships and interactions with people. Our highly motivated alumni network management team did a fantastic job coordinating and running some great events.

Unexpectedly, over the past two years, we have developed a great relationship with Los Angeles Network President Jean Tate and New York President Norma Krieger. By working together, we established a unified brand image and understanding of the benefits of becoming a Pratt Alumni member and ambassador. Our collective IQ and love for Pratt was off the charts.

In 2018, Miami Pratt Alumni hosted an event during Art Basel to welcome President Bronet. One of the attendees was Pratt’s award-winning alumnus, architect, and author Bernard Zyscovich, whose architecture firm designed the building where the event was held: Miami Dade College (MDC) Miami Animation & Gaming International Complex (MAGIC). Another notable guest was alumnus Ed O’Donnell, vice president of architecture and design.

You recently became dean of the College of Communication and Design at Lynn University. What do you see as the value of a creative education now?
Now more than ever, the need for flexible, adaptable, empathetic, innovative and creative leaders is in high demand. Today more than ever, leaders are working globally with diverse partners and customers. Leaders who demonstrate a high level of creativity and divergent thinking will gain a competitive edge.

My personal experience and a lot of research shows that as our industries move from a business-centric to a user-centric approach, leaders need to possess a high level of design and empathetic skills to interact with their consumer base through social media and apps. The role of designers and their way of thinking are transforming beyond the scope of a digital or physical object into a way of thinking that solves complex problems. The cognitive way a creative person thinks also establishes inherently more creative cultures.

The role of creativity and the design process has made its way into the way businesses operate, strategize, design, and interact with consumers. Design Thinking helps companies understand how customers feel and interact with your product. Being forward-thinking empowers businesses and individuals to solve problems. According to the founder of the Bauhaus school, Walter Gropius, “the Bauhaus could become a haven for eccentrics if it lost touch with the work and working methods of the outside world”. At the heart of such a business is a business that uses design to lead an organization.

At their core, innovative organizations must have creative leaders who establish a culture of flexibility, diversity, collaboration, adaptability, and playfulness. If leaders don’t set the tone for this kind of workplace culture, dealing with complex and unpredictable issues will leave them at a competitive disadvantage. Furthermore, your organizations will not attract or retain the best and brightest globally. When people are upbeat and their mood is positive, they can access creative thoughts more quickly and easily. When employees are happy, they are more likely to take risks and contribute ideas in a safe space, without fear of being judged or losing their jobs. Establishing this culture is the basis of innovation.

More recently, designers and artists have led the way through paradigm shifts in technology using blockchain and Web 3.0. These decentralized and disruptive forces, such as NFTs and the Metaverse, are growth opportunities for artists, gamers, creatives, and entrepreneurs. These creative skill sets are in high demand and will help society navigate, design and use these new mediums. According to Walter Gropius, “Art and technique, a new unity! “. He later explains this by saying, “the artist possesses the ability to breathe a soul into the lifeless product of the machine, and his creative powers continue to live there like a living leaven”.

Join the Pratt community on 3/23/22 for our first Giving Day! For 24 hours, we’ll devote our attention to supporting the scholarships, programs, and student experiences that make Pratt special. Visit donate.pratt.edu.

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