The MAD academy has a new director, Brett Griffith. Many students along with myself were curious to know how the academy will change with Dan no longer in charge. Therefore, I took it upon myself to get to know the new director on behalf of all the students at Santa Barbara High School. My interview with Brett Griffith exceeded my personal expectations, and will provide an insight into the newly reformed academy, but it begs the question, will the academy be able to leave its dark past in the shadows?
Brett grew up in Newbury Park, California, and lived in Los Angeles for eight years. He then moved to San Francisco for seven years, and now resides in Santa Barbara! He was a substitute teacher, and taught English at a charter school in both Simi Valley and Oxnard. From the Fall of 2013 to Spring 2019 he worked at Palo Alto High School, where he taught Filmmaking, Graphic Design, and a Film Analysis class. He has authored lectures, attended national arts conferences, and collaborated with industry professionals as well as state level and international educators. He got his college education as an Undergraduate at USC, graduate school at Long Beach State, and post grad at Cal State Channel Islands. He has also worked professionally in advertising, independent films and as an independent contractor.
Griffith found MAD through some arts friends and colleagues in Santa Barbara that are alumni of the academy. They encouraged him to visit MAD, just to see it. He then applied for the position online. As far as reconstructing MAD, he believes it is important that core values lead any organization, and that MAD is ever-growing and changing thanks to its community, students and industry. It takes a lot of people to help any organization change. AJ (co-director) and Brett are both committed to making sure Media Arts are the focus of all they work towards and supporting equity in an ongoing fashion. Change happens over and takes time. They’re exploring ways to better identify as part of Santa Barbara High School.
When he was at Palo Alto his goal was to align his program to industry-recognized top events for students. He would like to help students become familiar with these opportunities. He believes he was hired to support these opportunities at MAD, opportunities to start a career. He used to do a student film and animation festival each year at his former school. He is currently exploring the best way to do the same at the MAD Academy. He’d also like to install a server so he can archive and organize media more effectively.
Upon first impression, Brett was very impressed with the student work, community involvement and infrastructure. He says he has excellent colleagues and is lucky to work with so many passionate people. Brett says, “AJ, the co-director is great to work with and I’m thankful to Elise for her support in helping the program transition happen and looking out for MAD”. He believes the arts have intrinsic value. He has dedicated his professional and much of his personal life to the arts. Most all his friends and family are artists, editors, writers, media or involved patrons of the arts. His comment on the controversy surrounding the previous administration was brief: “There are a lot of feelings–my perspective looks forward”. Brett believes media arts have an enormous impact on our immediate and future world: “Our disciplines imagine and create things that did not previously exist–they tell stories that captivate people.. The history of our various classes are literally in illusions, visions, dreams and entertainment”. In his office he has a poster up for the movie Hugo, The Artist and is currently looking for a small one for Singin’ in the Rain. Brett thinks of himself as a film person, which he says is a “collaborative culmination of all they do at MAD”.
As the new school year and a new era of the MAD Academy begins, the students there have a few things to say about the drastic changes. Many of the students agreed that mad has experienced a noticeable shift in the community. When asked “how has MAD changed since you started?”some students replied that it has changed a lot since they started: “it just doesn’t feel the same”(Finley C.), and “there’s a different feel in MAD”(Madeline G.).
The students were not directly affected by the shift in administration and the controversy of the former director, but they definitely feel a shift in the community and environment that previously surrounded MAD. “It’s hard to be a strong community without Dan,” one student said. The students “miss Dan a lot because of the way he connected with the community” (Peter T.). The controversy of last year was a shock to everyone. A fear shared by the academy’s students is that there will not be the same level of understanding between administration and the students, “Dan understood the way MAD worked, and the kids”.
The students are not entirely hopeless for the future of MAD; “I hope the new directors can emulate the same fun and safe environment that Dan created… minus the illegal stuff” (Madeline G.). They liked the way MAD worked and don’t want too much to change. Many feel that the new administration is making changes very fast, and that the students do not have the same personal connection to staff. When I was trying to figure out the name of the new director, many people I asked had no idea. The students have felt in the dark about the whole controversy and the new administration. They do not feel as involved as they did previously, and therefore there is a noticeable lack of community amongst the students of MAD and their administration.