Issue: Fall 2014

Emerson College

Emerson College

Sunset Boulevard has a new star, architecturally speaking, in the guise of Emerson College. The West Coast outpost of the Boston-based communications and arts school, the Emerson Los Angeles (ELA) building was designed by Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne and it is a star in its own right. The complex, on both sides of Sunset, demands the attention of passersby. From a single base, two separate towers provide the dormitory space for college students - primarily juniors and seniors - who come to Hollywood for coursework and an internship in "the industry". The administrative offices, classrooms and other facilities have breathtaking views of the Hollywood sign, and throughout the site there are outdoor spaces that can be used for screenings and performances. Also on site is state-of-the-art audio and video mixing and editing studios, performance studios, and a café open to the public. The dormitory housing has space for 215 students each semester.

"This building is a big part of our commitment to our students and the Hollywood community," said Kevin Bright, founding director of Emerson Los Angeles. Bright said the center gives Emerson a true permanent home in Hollywood, adding that more than one third of their graduates end up making Los Angeles their home.

Emerson Los Angeles has been offering students internships in Los Angeles for almost thirty years; in previous years the program operated out of rented classroom space in Burbank. "We're the original out here," said Bright, "We have a long history of making connections for our students."  Emerson was the first college outside California to start an official semester-in-Hollywood program. The success of the program over the past decades has spurred other schools to launch similar programs, and Bright is quick to point out that the $100 million investment distinguishes ELA from other schools by making a statement that Emerson is committed to the success of Hollywood, the City of Los Angeles and the entertainment industry. "We are the first to put our shovels in the ground," said Bright.  "This space offers our students a sense of community, and also provides them with a larger context of their obligation to the community." Bright, an Emerson alumnus whose own roots are in television - he is one of the original executive producers behind the Emmy Award-winning television series "Friends" - is keenly aware of the importance of setting students up for the next step. After years of grueling hours and back-to-back shows, Bright made a conscious decision to do something different. Already on the board of trustees of Emerson, he was approached to teach a semester in Boston. "I loved being in the classroom. I was able to impart real world experience - give an idea of what it's like to work under intense pressure and deal with a lot of people and information coming at you all at once."

One semester turned into seven years in Boston, which in turn, led to Bright at the helm of the sparkling aluminum-clad edifice. Bright acknowledged that the complex is a big financial commitment from Emerson. "We're very fortunate to have a board of trustees that saw the opportunity, got excited, and wanted to make it happen," Bright said. With more than 4,000 alumni in the Los Angeles area, Bright remarked, there is also more opportunity for alumni to connect or renew connections with the school and be involved in a more direct way with the internship program. The list of Emersonians who have made their mark on the entertainment industry is both extensive and impressive and includes names like Norman Lear, Jay Leno, Henry Winkler and Denis Leary and makeup mogul Bobbi Brown just to name a few. Many of the College's 28,000 alumni remain active participants in the life of Emerson. "With this space, we have vastly increased networking opportunities for our students and alumni because we have a building to invite people to."

The new campus also reflects a growing interest in entertainment-related careers from college students across the nation. As ELA grows Bright said a large part of the goal is continuing to provide top-quality professional internships to students, and excellent interns to a wide variety of television and film studios, radio and media outlets, publicity, production and music companies and related industries. The program is rigorous; students go to their internship assignments during the day and attend classes at night. Bright also emphasized the role of ELA students in the community as they strive to create a culture of service. Along with the new facility comes a responsibility to encourage civic engagement and volunteerism. "Giving back is one of the greatest facilitators of networking," remarked Bright. "In addition to it simply being the right thing to do, this aspect of our program also gives students the opportunity to volunteer with alumni and other potential mentors." Community service is integrated into the program. The students work with organizations like Heal the Bay, Chrysalis, Project Angel Food, Urban Possibilities and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. ELA hopes to build a culture of service that helps students integrate fully into their new community, and connect with potential community leaders in the urban environment of Los Angeles.  

The new location is already yielding success stories. A recent Emerson grad who is working as an internship coordinator at ELA has been named a finalist as a writer in a prestigious nationwide competition, and ELA's presence in Hollywood will help ensure that the arts and creative industries continue to play a starring role in the vibrancy and economic success of the community. Hollywood is and always had been a place where dreams come true.

Photos by Iwan Baan