GETTING TO KNOW: CTA audiovisual ‘rock star’ Dickson Stewart



When you first hear the name Dickson Stewart, perhaps you envision a private investigator from a 1920s detective novel. Or a stalwart New York lawyer. Or a bassist for a British alternative band. Alas, he’s neither gumshoe nor lawyer. Dickson Stewart is, in fact, a kind of rock star — in the world of audiovisual (AV) consultancy, anyway.

Stewart joined CTA in June 2012 — working out of his home in Savannah, GA — as a senior design engineer/design consultant in the firm’s AV department. He brought with him a long history of consulting on all kinds of technology and has held a CTS-D designation (certified technology specialist, with an additional certificate as a designer — the “D”) for about seven years, which, he says, is to the audiovisual industry what an RCDD is to the IT world or PE is to engineering.

Stewart’s story begins in Columbia, SC, where he was born and raised, then migrates north to the Minneapolis/St. Paul (MN) area, where he lived for more than three decades. In college, Stewart dabbled in music, but his professional design career took off in back-to-back jobs as director of post-production (editing) at South Carolina Educational Television and Twin Cities Public Television, and later as senior engineer at WCCO-TV, Minneapolis’ CBS affiliate. Eventually, Stewart founded his own audiovisual consulting and design company, and has operated it since 1984.

“It is important to note the consulting I do is separate from equipment sales,” Stewart disclaims. “I write RFPs and RFQs [requests for proposals/quotations] that are typically competitively bid by audiovisual ‘integrators.’ They are awarded on lowest bid or best value. This allows me to work with public money where otherwise there would be a conflict of interest.”

“Buyers have more flexibility when they are spending their own personal funds; they are able to go to a design/build solution directly or to one of these integrators.”

Several judicial proceedings to which Stewart previously lent his expertise as a technology advisor are quite high profile; they include the overflow connections of the Oklahoma City bombing trials (1997), the Minnesota Tobacco settlement (1998), and the Bill Clinton/Paula Jones trial for Judge Webber-Wright (1998). He also worked on a Miami federal courthouse project, notable for its sheer size: “We had every type of audiovisual technology in there and I think the AV budget alone was about $5.5 million,” Stewart notes.

“In the last 15 years, judicial technology — plus law schools, mock courtrooms, et cetera — seems to have become my main niche,” he adds. “I have designed and overseen implementation of technology in about 45 county or municipal courts and worked on well over 400 United States federal courtrooms. These are spread throughout the lower 48 states.”

Despite his specialization, Stewart enjoys — and excels at — audiovisual consultation across a broad spectrum of markets and industries, including governmental, commercial, industrial, and educational. But regardless of clients’ job titles, Stewart prides himself on finding solutions that fit every one of their needs.

“I love the up-front process [of consultation] — discovering what clients really want, and helping them develop a clear direction and plan. I also like developing user interfaces that are very easy to operate,” he professed.

But what about the clients themselves? Need they be AV junkies?

“They may bring some knowledge, and that is fine, but I am more interested in trying to get them to focus on what problems they are trying to address. See better? Hear better? Communicate more efficiently? I like the idea that you often don’t have to throw a lot of equipment at clients to solve their problems. Sometimes it is a communication or human resources problem. Consulting is a delicate dance; they are paying you for your expertise, but you better listen to what they really want. You are still there for their agenda, not yours,” he concludes.

Lack of affiliation with a Top 40 band notwithstanding, Dickson Stewart is a rock star in his own right. His services can be secured for your technology needs today by contacting his booking agent (er, employer), CTA Architects Engineers.


From CTA AV Director Jeff Keller:

Today’s audivisual technology is no longer a solution allowing your science teacher to roll in a cart, plug it in, and press start. Competition for customers is fierce and demonstrating an edge in core competencies is becoming increasingly difficult. As companies attempt to find their edge, many are turning to AV as the solution. From courthouses to elementary schools to corporate conference rooms, AV is tightly integrated into many modern building systems. Touch panels, tablets, and smartphones that can control shades, projectors, phone systems, lights, mechanical systems, and sound are becoming standard in businesses and educational institutions that want to show their clients and user groups they are leaders in their respective fields.

Unfortunately, this technology is growing quickly and the expertise to design, integrate, and support these systems is not commonplace. Finding “experts” that can back up claims of their knowledge can be difficult. Fortunately, the AV industry realizes this and has developed certifications. CTA is fortunate enough to have such a certified talent on staff in Dickson Stewart. Dickson has proven his AV prowess time and again when our clients have run into complicated design issues. His industry knowledge, expertise, and exceptional knack for understanding individual needs has been extremely valuable in creating perfect solutions for our clients. His federal courthouse clients love him; he’s their go-to guy for new-to-market technologies and solutions.

AV will be a $100 billion industry in 2015. CTA prides itself on being a firm positioning itself ahead of competition, helping our clients realize if they don’t jump in to meet their own customers’ ever-changing technology demands, they will be left behind.


Main image: The new $121 million, 12-courtroom United States Courthouse in Jackson, MS, is an example of how CTA’s specialized justice design services can successfully integrate modern audiovisual technology seamlessly into an architect’s vision. Judicial technology can evolve quickly, so planned scalability lasting more than 30 years without general construction intervention is an expectation.

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