The Driving Force of San Francisco

“The school is in my blood,” Elisa explains in an interview with Haute Living. “My dad and mom met at the school, and my dad grew up at the school because my grandparents started the school 80 years ago. When I was growing up, [The Academy of Art University] was always part of our conversations, however, my parents were very encouraging for my brother and I to find something that we love to do, and they didn’t want to burden us with anything other than finding our true calling.”

She obviously found hers. Under her direction, the Academy of Art University has expanded exponentially. Since 2000 alone, it has taken over 16 additional buildings in downtown San Francisco and more than doubled its enrollment. Students from all over the globe are responding to the school’s call for excellence. “The philosophy and mission statement of the university is to have professional artists, designers, actors and actresses, and musicians in the classroom,” she explains. “People who are making their living doing what they want to do come in and instruct the next generation of artists. That adheres to the time-honored principle of art and design as a foundation.”

AAU recruits the top artists and designers to teach at the school, because they can offer first-hand knowledge about what it takes to succeed in the “real world,” which can be a rough place for artists who often do not get the business and teamwork training necessary to survive in various cut-throat careers. While ardently adhering to the underlying principles, Elisa is actively working daily to improve the university. “I’ve built on the foundation that existed and added to it,” she explains when asked about the changes that have been made under her direction. While she extols on the virtues of improved technology and new programs, it is the expansion of the campus that really exemplifies her commitment to both her students and the community as a whole.

The school is dedicated to ensuring that all of their facilities are state-of-the-art. As its saying goes, “If the pros are using it, you’ll be using it too.” Every school at the Academy has the same technology and equipment being used in the industry today. And each year, the Academy makes major purchases in every department to keep up with current industry standards. These are all improvements that have been made under Elisa’s watch. “Part of our commitment to our students is being the No. 1 art school in the nation,” she explains. “And to do so, we need to have the proper facilities to support the curriculum. We also have 16 dormitories that house 1,600 students, which isn’t quite even the freshman class. For our motion picture and television school, we’ve got wonderful studios where students can shoot film and video. In our industrial design program, we’ve got auto design, and each student has his or her own studio area to work on modeling cars.”

It is this last mention that brings us to the location of our photo shoot with Elisa: the Auto Museum. The private entity, which may soon be open to the public, is a learning tool for students that is unsurpassed; AAU is the only art and design school with its very own car collection. Many of the classic autos at the museum come from Elisa and her father’s personal collection. Hard-pressed to pick a favorite amongst her vehicles, she does admit that she has an affinity for a 1954 little red Corvette. “But the museum has so many beautiful cars that really show the transition in design, so it is hard to pick just one,” she explains.