James Meraz

podcast / president / spatial-experience-design
March 23, 2022
Produced by: Christine Spines

Change Lab Episode 54

James Meraz on creating a path through unimaginable loss

James Meraz joined the faculty of ArtCenter’s Environmental Design department in September of 2001, shortly before 9/11. In the wake of that tragedy he wavered about how to proceed with his planned curriculum. How would it all be relevant? In the end, he resolved to lean into the uncertainty of that “cataclysmic moment,” realizing that the only way out of the pain, chaos and confusion was to go through it.

James Meraz

As a creative artist, how do you deal with loss? You create, create, create.

James Meraz
James Meraz and son Luke
James Meraz and son Luke

Above all he discovered the value in staying present and connecting with others when things fall apart. Of course, he had no way of knowing how much he’d come to rely on those same skills when another catastrophe struck much closer to home.

In June of 2019, James’ twenty year-old son, Luke, died. James and his wife were immediately thrust into every parent’s worst nightmare. But as they were pummeled with wave after wave of agonizing grief, James eventually felt called to move toward the pain in order to understand the lessons that might benefit him and others – all of which we cover in our Change Lab interview that cycled through tears to moments of transcendence.

James’ journey has been an arduous one. The pain of loss remains an ever-present burden he’s dubbed “the backpack.” But by bringing his creativity to bear on an unbearable situation, James has discovered opportunities for reinvention and even a kind of rebirth in the projects he’s undertaken to support young artists and vulnerable communities in Luke’s honor.

Like the skilled designer he is, James has continued to ask himself the hard questions and has found renewed meaning in the simple act of showing up, even when part of him wants to give up.

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