Academy News

Academy Hosts Forward-Thinking First SF Chamber of Commerce Reception of the Year

The networking event featured expert discussion, highlighted the Academy’s car design program, and looked to the future

By Cristina Schreil

The event may have taken place among a fleet of timeless vintage automobiles—but it was as forward-thinking as it gets.

The Academy of Art University was a host sponsor to the first Executive Reception of the year for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, April 2, at the Academy of Art University Automobile Museum. The networking event, where leaders in the San Francisco business community could rub shoulders amid classic cars and over trays of crudité, cheeses, appetizers, and various wines, included a panel discussion, presented by KAR Auction Services, and giveaways from corporate sponsors Southwest Airlines, Emirates and PGA.

Naturally, there was also a focus on the importance of the arts in today’s fast-paced world.

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Dr. Elisa Stephens speaks to members of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Adrian Childress.

“When we look around our world, and our movies, our cars, our TV commercials, our clothes, our utensils, the beautiful hotels we stay in, we can see that everything’s been touched by the hands of an artist,” Academy President Dr. Elisa Stephens said to a large captive audience. “There are more jobs for artists today than there have ever been.”

Speaking in front of a bright-red 1937 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante Coupe, Dr. Stephens pivoted the focus toward the Academy’s car design program. She mentioned the Academy’s expert faculty—gesturing toward Tom Matano, executive director of the Academy’s School of Industrial Design (IND)—many of whom bring direct real-world experience to their teaching. “Our mission at the school is to use professional artists in the classroom. That was my grandfather’s belief,” she said. “Art moves fast, you have to have someone in the field teaching in the classroom.”

The event also included a Snap Fiesta photo booth, where attendees could pose enthusiastically alongside a tomato-red 1938 American Bantam Roadster.

Cars of the past were only part of the focus, however. An event highlight was a fireside chat-style panel discussion on the cross-section of cars and technology in the future, a fitting topic amid the surge of ride-sharing services in this tech-driven city.

Gene Rodriguez Miller, director of public affairs at KAR Auction Services, moderated a panel discussion between two local business leaders and experts on the topic: Andro Vrdoljak, head of business development and strategic partnership at Turo, a car-sharing company, and Sean Behr, co-founder and president of STRATIM, a fleet-management software company.

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Gene Rodriguez Miller, Andro Vrdoljak, and Sean Behr speak about the future of car ownership. Photo by Adrian Childress.

“In the last 10 years, we have seen the launch and growth of a lot of car-sharing services, apps, car-subscription services and the like. I’m wondering how these types of services are changing the automotive industry,” Rodriguez Miller began.

Vrdoljak shared that he believes we’re moving into a reality where many young adults prioritize easy-to-use apps like Lyft, Uber, Turo and the like over former generations’ emphasis on purchasing a car. “Young people no longer prefer ownership over access. Almost 50 percent of our local users got rid of their car in the last five years,” he said. Vrdoljak added that the city’s infrastructure is under a lot of pressure.

Behr added that it’s a particularly exciting time for consumers trying to get around San Francisco, citing “the number of apps and services you can use at your disposal with a click.” He added, “That’s a big opportunity for a lot of companies like Turo; it’s also a big challenge for car makers and car manufacturers.”

With that, Rodriguez Miller pivoted over to discuss what this meant for the future of car manufacturing. She asked the panel to think about the San Francisco of 10 years from now. She asked how companies should look to stay ahead of new trends and cater to modern consumers with very different needs from past generations.

“I think we need to talk to the Academy about helping the new designers figure out how to design cars without steering wheels,” Behr said. “No-steering-wheel cars are going to be the future.”

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