When Cesar Santalo assumed the position of dean at the Eugene M. and Christine E. Lynn College of Communication and Design at Lynn University last year, he didn’t do so to maintain the status quo. “I wanted to be the change-maker, I wanted to start from scratch, and they gave me that opportunity,” says Santalo. “My job is to bring as much innovation that people aren’t even thinking about.”
But Santalo doesn’t just talk about innovation; he decorates the walls with it. Vertical screens displaying non-fungible token (NFT) artwork adorn the lounge area of the College, featuring digital creations from students, faculty and the collection of University of Havana Art History Professor and NFT curator Gladys Garrote. On one screen, a re-creation of a classic Batman comic book cover shifts to a multi-colored geometric drawing of Boca Raton Innovation Campus designer Marcel Breuer. Another screen plays a short video of a Lynn student playing basketball.
The blockchain technology underpinning this eclectic collection of NFTs allows artists to authenticate and monetize their work in a way that was previously impossible. Think of the blockchain as a sort of digital ledger, where information about a digital creation (NFT) is stored in perpetuity to verify ownership and authenticity. And because the art exists in a digital space, adding a piece to the collection is as simple as sending an email.
“Before, you used to have to go see the Mona Lisa in order to see the Mona Lisa, but NFTs take away that notion that you have to go to a certain location to see the original,” says Santalo. Under his deanship, the university is creating its own NFT Museum to share the creations of digital artists. “All you need is a cell phone, and you’re part of the NFT Museum discussion,” says Santalo.
Santalo’s approach to innovation is reminiscent of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook mantra of “move fast and break things.” By breaking from conventionality, he has been able to develop what some writers have coined the “Boca Bauhaus” in honor of the revolutionary artistic movement started by Walter Gropius in post-WWI Germany. High praise indeed, but Santalo credits this evolution of the College into a marvel of technological art to more than just his vision.
Santalo says that collaborations with businesses and other colleges at Lynn have been a driving force for change. A large-scale example of this can be found in the virtual studio, where BrandStar donated a 29-foot LED Volume Wall, a video production tool which students have used to create stunning virtual set pieces for everything from newscasts to TV ads. While the ability to create a realistic virtual stadium of roaring fans around you is an impressive feat, Santalo believes that the real magic of the Volume Wall is less tangible.
“Whenever you can bring fun and playfulness into any type of organization, that organization is inevitably going to have more innovation, because people are not as scared to take risks … that’s the aspect this is bringing.”
Santalo’s emphasis on fun and playfulness can be seen in every room of the College. What was once a copy room was made into a LEGO room for a course on directing creative projects and using design thinking. “When you walk into our college and you see a bunch of grownups doing LEGOs, that brings on a sense of playfulness and creativity that has to be in every nook and cranny of this college,” says Santalo.
His spirited infusions to academia have had an effect. Student registrations have increased by roughly 20 percent over the past year, and one of the biggest incoming majors is film.
While time certainly moves faster in the digital age, Lynn University is keeping up with the pace. For Santalo, his college’s place in the tech revolution is dreamlike: “It’s unbelievable. I have to pinch myself sometimes, and I go, ‘this can’t be real.’”