By Ed Welburn, Vice President GM Global Design and CCS Board of Trustees member
This week, General Motors and the College for Creative Studies (CCS) are celebrating two important developments. Both reaffirm a mutual commitment to the city of Detroit and the people and institutions that fuel its creative economy. Both are significant and serve as an opportunity to envision the bright and exciting future that lies ahead, but also the creative excellence and thriving spirit of innovation that helped define its remarkable past as the birthplace of automotive design.
The first announcement is the $2.5 million donation from the GM Foundation donation to CCS to support the ongoing $145 million redevelopment of the college’s A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education. GM donated this building to the college in 2008, and this week’s donation deepens the partnership with this unparalleled educational complex serving middle school, high school, college and graduate students and the creative professionals that support their studies.
The second announcement is the formal dedication on the 11th floor of this historic building as the General Motors Auditorium. Back in the late ‘20s and ‘30s, design schools did not have a major in transportation design, so Harley Earl, GM’s first vice president of design, established a department called Design Development and referred to it as “The School,” so young employees with a passion for automobiles and artistic talent could be trained in the fundamentals of automotive design. The names of the talented designers who got their start here is impressive, as are the breakthrough automobiles they turned out. Names like Bill Mitchell and Chuck Jordan spent their formative years there, along with others who went on to design careers at other companies, including Virgil Exner, Dick Teague, Gene Bordinat, Homer LaGassey and Gordon Buehrig—men considered among the most prominent in automotive design history.
Today this space is the training ground for the creative community of the 21st Century. CCS’s undergraduate and graduate degree programs in design; a design research center; dining facility; retail and gallery spaces; the Henry Ford Academy; the School for Creative Studies, a new public charter for middle and high schoolers focused on art and design; and the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) are housed here. It is providing pathways for inner-city students to careers in creative professions and increasing minority representation in them.
It’s especially gratifying for me to see the GM Auditorium space and building come full circle. Harley Earl’s office was located in the northeast corner of the 11th floor, and I’m certain he would be proud to see how his tradition of excellence, creativity and innovation is inspiring others today and for generations to come. It is in honor and keeping of the legacy of design that we present CCS with a bronze bust of his likeness to serve as a reminder and tribute for all that occupy that space now called the Harley Earl Lounge.