Paula Wallace Explains the Powerful Benefits of Holistic Wellness

As a university president, and creative business leader, Paula Wallace knows the value of nourishing the mind, body, and spirit. From community-focused events like deFINE ART, Savannah Women of Vision, and the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, to her drive for fostering invention and innovation through her establishment of the university innovation studio SCADpro, Wallace is the embodiment of understanding that health and wellness are integrally connected. Each engages with the other to ensure holistic wellness. More importantly, Wallace makes the time and takes the initiative to lead by example. She is an avid Pilates practitioner, an esteemed pianist, and a passionate mother — both to her own children, and to every student that trusts their wellbeing, growth, and development to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

For Wallace, wellness begins with a single act: a smile. Not only is this the perfect icebreaker, capable of making everyone feel welcomed, but research also shows that this simple action fills the brain with dopamine, which makes each one of us happier. She suggests that we try smiling at each other, and see what happens. Sometimes, the cause and effect can be even more immediate, and unexpected — just by thinking about smiling, a grin can flash across your face.

In 1979, Wallace founded SCAD to educate and prepare students for professional creative careers. While the curriculum and degree requirements were concrete, fostering every student’s health and wellness was also imperative. Wallace recognized that a portion the path toward holistic wellness was to help students develop and embody healthy habits they could utilize forever. Today, still focused on a whole-person student experience, Wallace ensures that SCAD offers a range of health and wellness opportunities and initiatives. These range from state-of-the-art SCADfit equipment, instruction, and training, to BeeWell, a holistic lifestyle and wellness initiative. As well as Wallace’s favorite, Pilates, SCADfit studios also offer courses in dance, spin, and yoga. The university also competed in more than 20 varsity athletics sports, and offers intramurals for students.

Always one to lead by example, Wallace is an early bird. She wakes around 6 a.m. to engage the day with vigor. She will read emails, check social media, and review student comments and evaluations — all with the goal of providing the most relevant and valuable learning and living experiences to every SCAD student.

While Wallace loves physical exercise, she also believes in the importance of exercising one’s mind.  She has played piano since childhood — even giving lessons as her first job! Clearly, Wallace has always focused on creative careers. More significantly, scientific studies have long shown that playing music enhances complex thinking, information integration, and creativity. Performing is a unique combination of formal skills (sight reading), physical skills (playing), and mental skills (creativity and interpretation.) Finding the time and space to explore and express musically allows Wallace opportunities to focus, immerse, and innovate.

Most importantly, she emphasizes the significance of family. Known throughout Savannah for her love of after-dinner strolls through the city’s downtown architectural treasures, Wallace relishes in exploration, and being inspired under a canopy of Savannah’s historic oaks. Walking is accessible and relaxing. While Jean Jacques Rousseau regaled readers with tales of his solitary jaunts, Wallace prefers using this intimate time for family conversations, revelations of city history, and family connection. If an evening walk is not possible, Wallace contents herself on her porch swing. It may seem cliché, but the changing vistas of street and sky always reveal something new. The symphony of birdsongs adds to the experience, punctuated only by the rhythmic, repetitive gaits of Savannah’s famous horses.

Often, reading becomes an integral addition to the quietude of Wallace’s porch swing. A voracious reader, she has always been inspired by books. Whether she is immersed in a work by a dear friend like writer Emily Giffin, or using the wonders of literature and language to prepare for travel, Wallace finds reading crucial for health and happiness. Her best — most humorous and most valuable — reading advice may be to read a book before you see its film. Some of her recent favorite reads include Astier de Villatte’s Ma Vie à Paris, and Harrison Scott Key’s Congratulations, Who are You Again?—a hilarious must-read for any aspiring creative.

Finally, Paula Wallace suggests that the keys to happiness and holistic wellness depend upon more than working your way through a checklist. From her experience, holistic wellness derives from pairing persistence with passion: from taking the time to nourish mind, body, and soul: to learn, to work, and to create. As Wallace explains, doing what you love, and seeing the results, are the most rewarding outcomes. For her, these results are seen in the degrees, alumni, professions, and creative pursuits of every one of SCAD’s more than 46,000 graduates.