Finding Balance: A Q&A With President Paula Wallace

Finding Balance: A Q&A With President Paula Wallace
Interview by Shelly Brown
Illustration by
Jamison Harper

What does holistic wellness look like to you?

Holistic wellness incorporates the mind, body, and spirit. They’re inextricably connected. Research has shown that the act of smiling causes a chemical reaction in the brain that releases dopamine—which in turn makes us happier! Just try smiling at someone else, and you’ll see what I mean. Just writing about smiling makes me smile—I’m smiling right now! 

I established the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) with the intention to help students find pathways to their creative careers, and part of those pathways is to develop healthy habits to last a lifetime. SCAD offers athletics, fitness courses, and healthy lifestyle support services. Have you seen SCADfit? Riding in spin class is like playing a video game! You have to come visit. After all, many studies note that active people are more relaxed, productive, and less likely to develop depression and anxiety.

What is your morning routine? 

I wake up early, usually at or before 6 a.m., and I don’t use an alarm! Of course, “6 a.m.” is up for interpretation, depending on which SCAD location I’m visiting. As soon as I’m up, I’m always raring to leap into the day. I do my best reading and writing in the morning. I respond to emails. I check social media. I’ll even read student evaluations for fun—is that normal? Maybe not, but I love it!

Do you have a favorite exercise regime? 

I’m all about that Pilates life! It’s a brilliant form of exercise—so considered, so comprehensive. Pilates is also about mindfulness of the spirit, a glowing reminder that physical activity is a vital part of holistic wellness. No distractions, just a time to fully inhabit your mind and body. We teach Pilates at SCAD, by the way, along with yoga, spin, and dance.

Is there any type of personal self-care you wish you could do more?

I love playing the piano. It’s such a meditative release. Music transports me to another place. One neuroscience study showed that when jazz pianists play, their brains are able to integrate information in a highly efficient way, which in turn sparks spontaneous creativity. I think there’s certainly something to creative avocations which place one in a happy fugue state. I think that counts as self-care! 

Do you have set-aside, guarded family time?

My family and I usually take a walk after dinner in the evenings. We live in shady and architecturally rich downtown Savannah, so there’s something especially restful and inspiring about meandering under the canopy of oak trees draped in moss. I just love our highly walkable neighborhood. Our strolls allow for good conversations, as well, since in the act of walking, our attention becomes free to wander, and we talk more openly. Even the historic cemetery nearby presents a chance to talk together about the past, speculating about the lives of the people who lived in our city so long ago.

What does rest look like to you? What do you do to rest and replenish?

I’ll tell you what it looks like: my porch swing. I know it’s the South and it might be a cliché, but my porch swing is heaven. With a view straight into the vista of Savannah’s historic canopy of oaks, I can gaze at clouds scraping the tops of trees as they pass overhead and allow my mind to clear. The buzz of the city is at a remove. I can hear birds chirping, the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves, and occasionally revelers walking down the street, but mostly it’s an unfettered view of sky. 

What are your top three favorite books? 

Books are and always have been my joy. I enjoy the breezy, smart prose of my friend Emily Giffin. (And I prefer to read her books before seeing the films.) What I read is also influenced by what I’m doing during a given week. For example, if I’m traveling to SCAD Hong Kong, I read books set in China (books by Amy Tan and Jung Chang.) If I’m headed to SCAD Lacoste, I read about France, like Astier de Villatte’s Ma Vie à Paris. One favorite recent book is by Harrison Scott Key, Congratulations, Who are You Again?—a hilarious must-read for any aspiring creative. 

How do you fit personal passions into a priority list?

I don’t have a punch list, actually. I’m lucky that I do what I love for a living! I get to teach and nurture students and alumni who go on to pursue their passions and professions. The people and places of SCAD are endlessly fascinating and I am focused on them. Passionately focused!