In a Shifting Design Industry, a Pratt Grad Supports Future Creative Leaders

Cesar Santalo, BFA Fine Arts (Drawing) ’95, has chaired the Pratt Alumni Miami Network since 2018 and was recently appointed dean of the Eugene M. and Christine E. Lynn College of Communication and Design at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. In both these roles, he is a leader in connecting generations of designers and advancing what a creative education can offer today.

In addition to being a longtime educator with previous positions at Miami Dade College, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and the University of Miami, Santalo is an award-winning visual communications designer, artist, and illustrator. His work has ranged from Telemundo/NBC Universal on Quibi to art direction for Entertainment and Programming at Univision, as well as illustration, design, and animation for the Latin Grammys, Premios Lo Nuestro, and FIFA World Cup. He also art directed all of the major title sequences for WStudios powered by Univision, including Amar a Muerte, La Bella y Las Bestias, and La Piloto 2. For Giving Day, he shared the impact of Pratt on his career, why he stays connected to his alma mater, and the need for uplifting a new generation of creative leaders.

What inspires you to give to Pratt?
Pratt facilitated my dream of becoming an artist, art director, professor, and dean. I have carried the name Pratt proudly on my resume for years and also in my heart. I will continue the great legacy of so many of our successful and ground-breaking alumni and faculty because that is what we do. Giving back is not always about money but, more importantly, your time. Studying leadership for many years is not about you; it is about what you can do for others and how you can better serve them. I am here to help the Pratt community in any way I can!

When you look back at your time at Pratt, what is most memorable?
The most memorable experience for me was living at Willoughby and sharing an apartment with four other roommates. I was blessed to be surrounded by such hardworking roommates in their respective fields. We all shared a passion for art and design, and we would marvel at each other’s artistic talent and ability to stay awake all night working. We would spend our Friday nights going to some of the best museums and art shows in the world, like the Basquiat retrospective at the Whitney Museum and the Lucian Freud show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The diversity within our apartment was incredible and only further enriched our friendships and late-night discussions. Having that diversity around me also helped me grow and become more creative and innovative as an artist. My first collage painting was created in my dorm room in my sketchbook. As I worked in my living room/bedroom, my roommates and other students would drop in and comment about my work as I painted. I would take a break and visit my roommates to see what project they were working on for class. Unlike many other schools in New York, we were lucky to have a good-sized campus with its own dorms. I could work in the printmaking studio all night long and walk across the street to my apartment.

Another memorable time at Pratt was when I was an art teacher in the Saturday Art School program with Amy Brook Snider, department chair. That opportunity enabled me to engage and understand the local community and started my love for teaching.

How does being chair of the Pratt Alumni Miami Network keep you connected to Pratt?
It allows me to connect with local alumni and Pratt networks from around the country. The alumni network is an excellent resource for students and alumni who want to continue having friends and connections in the design world. As you meet alumni of all ages, you learn something extra about where Pratt was and where it is going. Students moving to Miami can reach out to us so they can attend our functions and start developing relationships with other alumni. Establishing relationships early in your professional career is everything. Some of the best and brightest in our city are Pratt graduates. These events provide opportunities outside of your everyday connections and interactions with people. Our highly motivated alumni network leadership team did a fantastic job coordinating and organizing some really great events.

Unexpectedly in the past two years, we developed some great relationships with the chair Jean Tate from the Los Angeles Network and New York chair Norma Krieger. Working together, we established a unified branding and understanding of the benefits of becoming a member and ambassador for Pratt Alumni. Our collective IQs and love for Pratt were off the charts.

In 2018, Miami Pratt Alumni hosted an event during Art Basel welcoming President Bronet. One of the attendees was award-winning Pratt alumnus, architect, and author Bernard Zyscovich whose architecture firm designed the actual building where the event was held: Miami Dade College’s (MDC) Miami Animation & Gaming International Complex (MAGIC). Another distinguished guest in attendance was alumnus Ed O’Donnell, vice president of Architecture and Design.

You recently became Dean of the College of Communication and Design at Lynn University. What do you see as the value of a creative education now?
Now more than ever, the need for flexible-minded, adaptable, empathetic, innovative, and creative leaders is in high demand. Leaders currently, more than ever, are working on a global scale with various partners and customers. Leaders who demonstrate a high level of creativity and divergent thinking will gain a competitive edge.

My personal experience and much research show that as our industries shift from a business-led approach to a user-centered one, leaders must possess a high level of design and empathetic skill sets to engage with their consumer base via social media and apps. The role of designers and their mode of thinking is transforming itself beyond the scope of a digital or physical object into a way of thinking that solves complex issues. The cognitive way a creative person thinks also establishes inherently more creative cultures.

The role of creativity and the design process has made its way into the way businesses function, strategize, design, and engage with consumers. Design thinking helps businesses understand how customers feel and engage with your product. Being forward-thinking enables companies and individuals to be problem solvers. According to Bauhaus School founder Walter Gropius, “the Bauhaus could become a haven for eccentrics if it were to lose contact with the work and working methods of the outside world.” At the heart of such a business is one that utilizes design to lead an organization.

At their core, innovative organizations must have creative leaders that establish a culture of flexibility, diversity, collaboration, adaptability, and playfulness. If leaders do not set the tone for this type of culture in the workplace, dealing with complex and unpredictable issues will leave them at a competitive disadvantage. Also, your organizations will not attract and retain the best and brightest globally. When people are playful and their moods are positive, they can access creative thoughts more quickly and easily. When employees are happy, they are more likely to take chances and contribute ideas in a safe space, without fear of judgment or losing their jobs. Establishing this culture is at the foundation of innovation.

Most recently, designers and artists are leading the way through paradigm shifts in technology using blockchain and Web 3.0. These decentralized and disruptive forces, such as NFTs and the Metaverse, are growth opportunities for artists, gamers, creatives, and entrepreneurs. These creative skill sets are in high demand and will help society navigate, design, and use these new mediums. According to Walter Gropius, “Art and technology, a new unity!.” He later explains this by saying, “the artist possesses the ability to breathe soul into the lifeless product of the machine, and his creative powers continue to live within it as a living ferment.”

Join the Pratt community on 3.23.22 for our first Giving Day! For 24 hours, we will dedicate attention to supporting student scholarships, programs, and experiences that make Pratt special. Visit

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