Brooks Institute is looking to internationalize its visual arts education, announcing partnerships this week with Chinese and European schools that would provide students with an opportunity to study abroad.
Faculty at the 70-year-old institution could also swap places with those at Beijing Institute of Graphic Communication in China or Hands On Malta School of Filmmakers in Malta, an island country in the Mediterranean Sea south of Italy.
Brooks Institute, which will complete a move from Santa Barbara to its large Ventura campus by the end of the year, is also preparing to accept more international students, President Edward Clift said.
The move is meant to provide greater depth of education and global perspective for some of Brooks’ 400 or so students pursuing careers in industries that have been impacted by technology.
Instead of a mere local focus, Clift said the visual and media arts school would also have an eye on international possibilities.
“They’re very common for colleges and universities in order to facility a global network,” he said. “The main purpose of these agreements is to identify similar institutions.”
Locals who remember the school when it was Brooks Institute of Photography see the change as widening the gap between past and present.
The institute, founded locally by Ernest Brooks in 1945 as the Brooks Institute of Photography, expanded to several Santa Barbara sites before the Brooks family sold it in 1999 to Career Education Corp., which began consolidating the sites in 2013 to one location at 5301 N. Ventura Ave. in Ventura.
Brooks was sold again earlier this year to Gphomestay, a Massachusetts-based company also known as Green Planet that specializes in finding homes for international students studying abroad in the United States.
Brooks was the company’s first campus acquisition.
In July, Green Planet hired Clift, who was the founding dean at the School of Media, Culture & Design at Woodbury University in Burbank.
Clift said the partnerships would take effect immediately — meaning students can apply to the other campuses for class credit — hopefully enhancing student and faculty graphic communication and filmmaking skills, along with information sharing.
“With new ownership under Green Planet, we have much deeper connections around the world,” Clift said.
“Historically, Brooks has always been deeply engaged in the surrounding community, and we’re continuing that in Ventura. Everything is going global now, especially the film industry. I think it’s just sort of a sign of things to come.”
Hands On Malta School of Filmmakers in Malta is described on its website as a relatively young program, while Beijing Institute of Graphic Communication has undergone a series of changes to adapt like Brooks.
Brooks alumni see the shift as one of many since the school was first sold to a corporation.
“On the surface, I would say it’s probably good and going to give them some much-needed help,” said Tom Kranzle, who graduated from Brooks in 2006 and founded Santa Barbara-based Venture Visuals.
But unless the school reevaluates its core principles, he said, the foundation of what once was will continue to erode under the guidance of a corporation.
“The sad part for me to is it affected the quality of the education and the quality of the graduates,” Kranzel said of the Brooks family selling the school. “I hope they can turn it around. I wish them well.”
Brooks alum Tim Halberg, who found a niche shooting wedding photography in Sacramento, said he understood that a corporation would try to make the school more profitable and he liked the idea of offering students travel opportunities.
“Being able to experience a different culture while working on your art is always inspiring,” Halberg said.
Clift said the partnerships would actually boost involvement from international alumni, who recently opened a chapter in Shanghai, China.
Brooks Institute, which offers bachelors and master’s degrees in photography, graphic design, film and other fields, will be entirely out of Santa Barbara come Dec. 31 when its gallery at 27 E. Cota St. will close.
Clift said all students who began their careers in Santa Barbara would also be graduated by then.
That shuttered student art gallery will be replaced in early 2016 when Brooks will open a replacement gallery inside the historic Erle Stanley Gardner Building in downtown Ventura.