In the excitement and anticipation of Charles Hirschhorn’s first official day as Otis College President, we will be getting to know him over the next several weeks. As was stated in the official announcement, as well as recently in the Los Angeles Times, Hirschhorn comes to Otis College after a three-decade-long career spanning film, television, cable, broadband, animation, and video games.
He grew up in Chicago and attended Harvard College for a B.A. degree in Economics. Early in his career as Vice-President of Development for Fox Broadcasting, Hirschhorn helped launch the Fox Network and developed the Emmy-winning sketch comedy series, In Living Color. He then spent 10 years at Disney, where as Vice-President of Production at Disney’s Hollywood Pictures he was involved in such films as The Joy Luck Club and the Oscar-nominated Quiz Show. Hirschhorn also was President of Disney Television and Television Animation, where he oversaw movies and animated TV series releases for ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney, the Disney Channel, Disney Video Premieres, and Movietoons, managing over 1,200 employees. He then founded G4 Television, the first TV network dedicated to video games, and was Chief Creative Officer of Retirement Living TV, the country’s only network serving adults aged 50+. More recently, as President of AEG Television, Hirschhorn co-managed AXS TV, which was launched in 2012 in partnership with Mark Cuban, AEG, CAA, CBS, and Ryan Seacrest Media.
Hirschhorn also is an active community member. For over a decade, he has volunteered with Chrysalis, offering job counseling services to convicted felons. He serves on the boards of Berklee College of Music, Harvard College Office for the Arts, and Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and is on the advisory board of USC’s Lloyd Grief Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. He also is a founder of L.A. City Partners.
We asked Hirschhorn a few questions to learn more about the next president of Otis College.
Can you please tell us a little bit about where you’re from and your educational background? What impact, if any, did art have on you during this formative time?
I received an excellent public education growing up in suburban Chicago, but it was an introductory studio art class during my freshman year at Harvard that changed the trajectory of my life. As my first serious introduction to drawing, sculpture, design, architecture, photography, and film, I quickly learned that I was neither an artist nor designer, but I hoped to spend my professional and personal life surrounded by them.
What types of experiences and insights from your entertainment industry background will inform your role as president of Otis College?
As a producer and media executive, I’ve learned that creative expression needs opportunity, relationships, and resources to fulfill its intention. I’m hoping I can increase those elements for Otis College students, faculty, and alumni.
You’ve spent many years in a volunteer capacity at such arts and education organizations as the Berklee College of Music. How do you think these experiences have prepared you to be the next president of Otis College?
Being a Trustee of the Berklee College of Music for the last 15 years has allowed me to participate in the exceptional achievements we’ve accomplished, including diversity, student and alumni success, affordability, degree program expansion, online education, international programming, and more.
Because you have spent the majority of your career working in the entertainment industry, what is it about Otis College, an art and design college, that appeals to you at this point in your career?
I have always been committed to education, from teaching job hunting skills to convicted felons at Chrysalis, to serving for decades as an adviser to the Harvard College Office for the Arts. With the current media evolution, from analog to digital, I have the opportunity to consciously shift my professional efforts and resources from the media and entertainment industry to art and design education.
From throughout your career in the entertainment industry, what are some of the accomplishments you are the proudest of?
I’ll limit myself to seven: In Living Color, The Joy Luck Club, G4 TV, Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Quiz Show, Lifesize, and The Santa Clause.
What excites you most about working with Otis College students?
In my informal visits to campus, and formal meetings as part of the search process, I have been inspired by the students’ intelligence and the strength of their personal expressions. I am energized by their commitment to each other and to the larger Otis College community.
How do you plan to learn about the college during this shadow period, while the campus is closed?
Similar to the rest of the Otis community that is returning to learning, after the break I’ve also had to adjust to a remote situation. This will place a challenge on me getting to know students, faculty and staff, and them getting to know me, as it will be via Zoom, not in person. I’m hoping our initial remote meetings will make the eventual return to an open campus more rewarding and exciting.
How have you and your family been spending time during California’s Stay at Home restrictions? What’s the biggest thing you miss doing?
Our youngest son is home finishing his senior year in college, so I have a front row seat to the challenges many students are dealing with. I miss going out to eat, especially knowing the hardship this crisis has inflicted on restaurant workers and owners.
Lastly, what would you like to say to Otis College students during this week when everyone has returned to school after an extended spring break, and when all courses have moved online in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19?
If history is a guide, we are all living a “once in a lifetime” experience. It has created challenges for all of us, but my hope is that your creativity and artistry will help you find opportunities as well.
Photo by James Ross Mankoff, courtesy of Otis College.