Access and excellence at scale

Scroll Down

When Dean Steven J. Tepper arrived from Vanderbilt 10 years ago, the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts counted about 4,500 students. This semester, 8,389 students, including both in-person and online students, started or continued their journey at the Herberger Institute.

That’s just one indication of the incredible growth that the Institute has experienced under Tepper’s leadership. The Institute has also expanded from one city to four, including another state, and launched three new schools, most recently The Sidney Poitier New American Film School and ASU FIDM.

Today the Institute operates physical locations across two states and four cities with compelling new offerings at each site. It also thrives in digital spaces through research, artistic work and productions, degree programs, fellowships and more in the XRts and AI fields.

Beyond the bustling design and arts corridor on the ASU Tempe campus, the new Media and Immersive eXperience (MIX) Center in Mesa and Fusion on First, the high-tech innovation hub in downtown Phoenix, provide the Herberger Institute community with cutting-edge professional technology and spaces. In Los Angeles, the Institute’s students in film, fashion and design have access to two ASU California Centers in downtown Los Angeles, one on Grand, in the former FIDM building, and one on Broadway, in the beautifully renovated Herald Examiner building.

All this growth, Tepper says, is done with purpose.

“We are driving all of these changes, guided by the charter of this university and our responsibility to continue to advance human creative expression at the highest level, for everyone, equitably, inclusively.”

“We are driving all of these changes, guided by the charter of this university and our responsibility to continue to advance human creative expression at the highest level, for everyone, equitably, inclusively.”

Steven J. Tepper, Dean and Director, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

A sociologist and expert on creativity, Tepper has paid close attention to the way the creative landscape in the U.S. has shifted during the decade he’s led the Institute. From the rapid implementation of new technologies to the increasing polarization of public opinion, that landscape presents new designers, artists and scholars with challenges for which ASU must prepare them.

Foremost, Tepper believes that creativity is a muscle that grows stronger with exercise—and that the ability to think creatively is one of the secrets of Herberger Institute alumni success.

In an essay recently published by Grantmakers in the Arts, Tepper and co-author Terence McDonell write, “Creativity—the act of generating ideas, making unexpected connections, openness to novelty and difference, taking risks, and generating social meaning through shared stories and expression—is a powerful asset to advance our democracy and our planet.”

Tepper and McConnell view creativity as essential to the social good because creativity “helps us imagine alternative futures, fuels empathy and connection, drives civic engagement, and creates adaptable and resilient individuals and communities.” 

But, they argue, if creativity is to drive social good, then we must develop what they call “creativity at social scale.” In other words, “creative engagements that reach more people; creativity that is embedded in more places and connected to more areas of economic and social life; and creative tools that are accessible to everyone.”

With the growth of the Institute and its expansion to other cities, including with the new Creative Economy Hub in Los Angeles, the Herberger Institute is working to further break down the gates that have traditionally kept so many designers and artists from pursuing their calling, and to provide greater access to the creative industries for our students—both for the sake of the students and the sake of the industries.

In the words of Tepper and McDonnell: “If we want creativity everywhere and for everyone, then we need to design for it to operate at scale.” And for that design to truly succeed, Tepper says, the Herberger Institute must also maintain the excellence for which its students, faculty and programs are known. 

So far, the Herberger Institute’s growth in size has been accompanied by an increase in excellence: The Institute’s programs are rising in the rankings—#1 in visual and performing arts doctorates and the #2 bachelor’s degree in music therapy nationally, #3 graphic design school in the Southwest, #4 in ceramics and #6 in photography nationally—and the Institute has consistently moved up in the Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) survey, which tracks research expenditures. As of 2022, the Herberger Institute ranked at #7 in the nation for visual and performing arts, above the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the University of Indiana and the University of Arizona.

Additionally, because the Institute sits within a research 1 university at the most innovative university in the nation, and because the Institute itself comprises six schools that offer study in art; arts, media and engineering; design; film; fashion; music, dance and theatre, Herberger Institute students can plot their creative course beyond the usual borders of prescribed disciplinary maps—setting the stage for a decade of even greater possibilities.

Photos by Matter Films, ASU Academic Enterprise, Armand Saavedra and Sabira Madad.