As an East Coast native with a Carnegie Mellon University education, I started out as a bit of an outsider at ArtCenter. Fortunately, I’m comfortable with not being an “insider” – at least not right away. In fact, I travelled cross-country after CMU to start my career in a city I had never even visited. Now I consider myself a nearly-native Angeleno.
That outsider career move paid off and I was soon able to integrate into various design networks in the city that all more or less knew each other. At each turn, it was a gift to find acceptance and support from other local designers, including my first employer, architectural illustration legend Carlos Diniz (who then introduced me to Richard Saul Wurman… you get the idea!)
It was through my work at Sussman/Prejza that I met ArtCenter’s incredible Ramone Muñoz. That encounter marked the beginning of my ArtCenter teaching career, which is now going on 30 years. Ironically, I had been turned away from early job interviews because I didn’t have an ArtCenter education. Now, I was being asked to teach there.
I began by teaching one class on Saturdays in ArtCenter’s rented walk-up in Old Town Pasadena, back when there were still vacant storefronts in that part of town. Eventually, I was asked to teach full-time. Later, I attended our MFA program while continuing to teach, an involvement that further deepened my commitment to the College and new ways to think about education.
Of course, much has changed in my 30 years at ArtCenter. When I arrived I was one of the few non-ArtCenter people teaching. That nascent trend of ArtCenter looking more outward has continued in some very good ways. The current Chair of our department, Sean Adams, brings an outsider’s perspective to the College (although by now, like me, he’s practically a native orange dot!).
The student body has also evolved. It’s more diverse, and more representative of the world we actually live in. These young people are so capable; they practically teach themselves. I’m truly honored to be part of their journey.
I’ve also had some interesting extra-curricular opportunities at ArtCenter, but two in particular stemmed from things quite unexpected. When the Chair of our department suddenly vacated her seat, I found myself as Interim Chair. That experience was an incredibly valuable opportunity to serve the department in ways that continue to inform my teaching.
The next surprise was being diagnosed with breast cancer. When my 12 weeks of medical leave were up, I realized I wouldn’t be able to return to work. After all, teaching is nothing if not physically exhausting and treatment just didn’t allow for that. In response, Provost Fred Fehlau offered a different solution and a new way to stay engaged: help ArtCenter become more positively involved with its academic assessment. It wasn’t the first time Fred had identified me as an “assessment nerd” and developing new ways to look at assessment for arts education in particular was truly a way I could help both myself and the institution.
I’m proud to say that the way the school currently documents its education practices is a process that I developed. The new protocol helps ArtCenter submit its progress as an institution to various governing bodies, who then use external peer assessment to help determine ArtCenter’s continuing accreditation status. I’m always grateful for the opportunity to put my brain to good use, and was especially happy to do so when my other option was to simply stew in my chemotherapy!
ArtCenter (and life in general) has given me opportunity after opportunity, and I’ve tried to perform due diligence at each juncture. With all the luck I’ve enjoyed comes an obligation – not only to be the best I can be, but to give back so that there are continuing opportunities for others.
Some people say that, in order to succeed, you’ve just got to be “in the right place at the right time.” In my case, I’ve frequently found myself in the right place – sometimes at the right time, sometimes at a surprise time, but never quite at the wrong time. Because when you’ve been blessed with a bit of talent and the ability to think things through, there’s never really a wrong time to step up.
MFA 95 Graphic Design
Professor at ArtCenter, Graphic Design