When I was a kid, my mom and dad owned and operated an Italian seafood restaurant. My old man was the head chef, and my mom was the head waitress and bookkeeper. In other words, I was a restaurant kid.
My dad emigrated from Sicily, making me a first-generation American. Food was something he shared with his mother – right down to the recipes, which he passed along to me. I grew up in New Smyrna Beach, Florida – a town that’s mostly known for hosting the Daytona 500. We got a lot of tourists during the summertime, but our local clientele was diverse too. My days were spent chopping it up (figuratively and sometimes literally) with line cooks, dishwashers, servers and my parents’ extended back-of-the-house family as well as our patrons.
Working in a restaurant is similar to working in a creative field in that you have to learn to do what is best for the group. Also, the materials you use matter, and what you create lives in a public space. Watching my parents run their business, I began to also see the value in consistency: the fact that some customers would come in for the same plate of spaghetti and meatballs every Tuesday night, because they knew it would be perfect.
In the Fall of 2001, I was accepted as an undergrad majoring in Fine Art in New York City. I moved to the city to paint – an act that, for me, was as primal and necessary as cooking was for my father.
And so I journeyed from a small town in Florida to one of the largest cities in America. My first week at New York’s School of Visual Arts, I knew no one. During Orientation, another student invited me to lunch. To my surprise, he was eating with the president of the college. I left that meeting with a job in student government.
From that day forward, I immersed myself in the culture of student affairs. I became an RA in my dorm and worked in the student life office. I developed a family that was, in many ways, very similar to my restaurant family.
After college, I ended up getting a gig in a student life office at a small liberal arts college, where I worked for nine years under one of the best bosses I will ever have. My time there ended as my time started at ArtCenter, and as hard as it is to leave “home,” it is also necessary to take risks.
ArtCenter has two distinct personalities. One is grounded in the tradition and academic rigor of the past. The other is a more youthful, experimental crossroads of identity and ambition. I keep both in mind when creating programming that builds bridges between curricula and experiences.
I want to encourage people to get what they need out of the experiences and workshops that we offer. I also know that life is built on the possibilities you didn’t know existed. So, sure, you’ll make friends in one of our social clubs. But maybe you’ll also meet people who will introduce you to a subject or discipline you weren’t familiar with before. Maybe you’ll make a work connection on an off-campus trip. Or maybe you’ll fall more in love with this great city that we all call home, even if it’s just home for now.
My role in the larger tapestry of ArtCenter is to offer opportunities for students to apply what they learn in the classroom outside of the classroom. Whether it’s checking out a gallery in the Arts District of downtown, participating in a workshop on difficult conversations, or simply going ice skating in Pasadena with a group of your peers, there is so much more to an ArtCenter experience than what meets the eye.
Associate Director for Leadership Programs in the Center for the Student Experience