Mary Rushton-Beales founded the Hunslow, England-based firm, the Lighting Design House in 1990. Since 1997, a large portion of her firm's work has been in the Middle East. As a teacher of degree-level lighting design and as the recently appointed Director of Education for the IALD, Mary has well-founded opinions on education and its place in the lighting design profession.
A|L: Please give a brief history of your role as an advocate for education.
MRB: Education is the bedrock of our profession; whether we are educating the lighting designers of today or tomorrow or whether we are educating the building community as to the benefits of using an independent lighting designer. My own personal experience of teaching interior 3D designers the rudiments of lighting design has proved that teaching at the degree level really can provide the opportunity to reach both students and our construction industry peers at the same time. Increasing interaction between IALD membership and schools of higher learning through the adopt-a-school and the creation of a speakers bureau are programs that have already begun that I hope will be formalised during my term as Education Director.
It would be great to resurrect the IALD internship programme that gives the lighting designers of the future the opportunity to interact with real life.
A|L: What is your agenda as the Director of Education for the IALD?
MRB: My role as Education Director is to foster professional development both in lighting and in the business of lighting design to the membership and on behalf of the membership of IALD. Educational seminars at Lightfair and the IALD Annual meeting are of critical importance.
I believe that the IALD has to be a loud voice proclaiming the value of quality in the lit environment in both commercial projects and lighting education. Lighting design involves both art and science; my agenda is to ensure equal emphasis of both whilst preserving the IALD's basic values and importance assigned to the art side of that balance. Too much lighting education focuses on that which is easiest to teach - the science and engineering aspects of lighting and the associated hardware. My IALD colleagues share a concern for emphasis on the intangible artistic aspects of lighting design, harder to define but the magic spark that lifts mediocre to magnificence.
My perception of the IALD has changed enormously since I became much more deeply involved some three years ago. Now I understand the massive input required, behind the scenes, both from volunteers and the administration team, for activities such as Lightfair, awards and marketing initiatives for regional and pan-regional activities. Sadly, much of the effort poured into these events is unknown. Therefore, I regard communicating effectively the roles of the various committees and marketing initiatives as an important aspect of the IALD education strategy.
Of equal importance is formal graduate-level lighting design education. As a global organisation we should be able to direct enquiries via the website to a definitive list of options for worldwide education in lighting design, and be able to provide details of the courses and services available from all our related professional associations. This database is currently under construction by the IALD Education Trust.
A|L: Do you bring something special to this position as a lighting designer based in England?
MRB: One of the main satisfactions I derive from being a lighting designer is the constant learning curve; new technologies, new business techniques, new research, new design teams - there is hardly a single day in which my profession isn't teaching me something.
My personal view is that education has a dual role - as a highly positive networking tool as well as a practical necessity. Once one looks at Education from this perspective it takes on greater importance for the industry as a whole.
The American market for lighting design (and therefore education) is more mature than the UK and Europe. I hope that bringing a different perspective from a younger market with different educational and in some ways cultural priorities will create new opportunities for lighting designers to work together to improve lighting education. As lighting designers, we are always called upon to think outside the box; it's just that the European 'box' is a different colour and size, to the American one.
A|L: How do you think the lighting degree programs in the United States and Europe compare? What could they learn from each other?
MRB: From my personal experience of teaching lighting on interior design and 3D degree programs, I have to say that it is very difficult to compare one syllabus to another unless one has actually taught on it. As far as learning from each other, talking is always a good start. I am sure that the databases under construction (and the adopt-a-school initiative) by the Education Trust will go some way towards fostering greater communication between the colleges involved.
A|L: What should the industry-lighting designers, design firms, the IALD, manufacturers-be expected to do to promote lighting education? Are they doing it?
MRB: The industry needs to continually reinforce the value of the craft. We were not making shoes here. We are enhancing perception. As an industry we need to continually promote the value of seeing over the value of saving energy. We tend to lose sight of the primary benefit of good lighting over the current forces driving the execution of lighting products and projects. I remain concerned about our industry's lack of investment in its own future and an apathy and complacency regarding the forces that drive it. We all need to 'give something back' in order to ensure good lighting design is not consigned to the past.