People smiling on a staircase
Vann Graves, Ed.D., (forefront) and the 2022 class of the Cannes Creative Academy, a certificate program to launch young professional talent to the next level of their careers. (Photo courtesy Graves)

Brandcenter student, executive director embrace new opportunities at Cannes Lions festival

Vann Graves serves as new dean of Cannes Creative Academy, and Shaunda Lambert has “once-in-a-lifetime experience” at global academy for students.

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The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – the largest gathering in the creative marketing community – debuted in 1954. Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University students and faculty have had a front seat at the festivities since the VCU program’s founding, earning many accolades throughout the years.

Recognition at Cannes in the form of a Cannes Lion prize is among the most prestigious honors in the industry.

“I’ll never forget how I felt after receiving my first Lion – it stays with you,” said Vann Graves, Ed.D., executive director of the Brandcenter.

This summer, Graves played a prominent role at Cannes as the newly appointed dean of the Cannes Creative Academy, a certificate program to launch young professional talent to the next level of their careers. According to Graves, each dean has the opportunity to design the academy experience in a manner that best meets participants’ needs.  

His approach was to prepare modern creatives for the business world and expectations they would face beyond creativity. He designed the curriculum to focus on their development as business leaders as much as their development as creatives, makers and builders.

“Since the pandemic, the world has changed,” Graves said. “I think expectations of even how people learn and how they're educated have changed. But also things are much more experiential. All of us have spent two years sitting in front of our computers as passive participants. For me personally, I knew I did not have the patience for sitting in a room just watching presentations. And it was not something I wanted for my students. So my goal was to create a programmatic approach that focused on the higher level of engagement and just an experience that was beyond a standard classroom experience.

“Also, having students in a classroom and not having them engage in the festival seemed like a missed opportunity. I built the curriculum that was much more in line with things that were going on in the actual award show. I took the students out of the classroom … building out a curriculum that was also active where they were constantly engaged and moving.”

While the creative academy caters to creatives in the early stages of their careers, the Roger Hatchuel Student Academy at Cannes offers a unique learning experience to help students launch their careers on a creative advertising path.

Brandcenter student Shaunda Lambert was one of only 30 participants to make it into the competitive academy.

A large group of people standing together
VCU Brandcenter's Vann Graves, Ed.D., left, dean of the Cannes Creative Academy and the 2022 class. According to Graves, each dean has the opportunity to design the academy experience in a manner that best meets participants’ needs. (Photo courtesy Graves)

“The academy was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, truly,” Lambert said. “I had no expectations going in but ended up coming out with so much knowledge on how to be a better strategist and looking at things in a global context. I also earned a global family through the other 29 students that came through the program with me.

“It was a long, taxing week full of work and live pitches, but it was well worth it because I also walked away with tangible tools and a network to really get started on servicing founders with brilliant ideas coming from marginalized communities.”

In her application, Lambert told her story of being a Black woman who was always an outlier in predominantly white spaces. She vowed that, moving forward, she would make sure that all those she encountered who felt they didn’t have a voice would be represented in their entrepreneurship journey.

“I often say that my degree from the Brandcenter is not for me but for the community I aspire to support through my work,” she said. “Participating in RHSA allowed me the chance to redefine community and better shape the type of work I want to bring to the forefront.

“The significance of Cannes for students is that it is more than an accolade but a space to inspire communities, people, and move people in positive and innovative ways that help huge world issues such as sustainability and creating awareness around underrepresented communities. Our work and time we spend at Brandcenter matters; it impacts the world around us.”