For Art Center at Night director Dana L.Walker, “Diversity is really about all of us.”

by February 25th, 2013

Dana L. Walker, Photography and Imaging alumna and Art Center at Night director. Photo: Ken Merfeld.

Many students who end up studying at Art Center are first introduced to the College through Art Center at Night (ACN)—Art Center’s continuing studies program headquartered at South Campus. And chances are that at some point many of those students also came into contact with Photography and Imaging alumna Dana L. Walker (PHOT 1995). Walker serves as both the director of ACN and the managing director of Public Programs, Art Center’s suite of programs that also includes Art Center for Kids (grades 4–8), Saturday High (grades 9–12) and Summer Institute for Teachers (for K–12 educators).

In addition to her Public Programs duties, Walker is also co-chair of Art Center’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, which the College created in 2011 as part of its Create Change Strategic Plan. She’s also a board member of the 120 Group, an ethnically diverse, alumni-based organization that promotes educational and career opportunities in art and design for underrepresented minority populations.

We sat down recently with Dana to talk about diversity, her work as an artist and what it’s like to be a student in her own program.

Dotted Line: You’re on the College’s diversity council. How do you define diversity?

Dana Walker: I don’t define it. In fact, one of the things we’ve done on the Council is purposely not define it. Because once you define it, it becomes a quantity rather than a quality. Diversity is not just about race, ethnicity or religion. It’s also economics, geography, gender and more. In fact, diversity includes so much that it’s really about all of us. And that’s what makes it challenging. To become a better artist or designer, you need to understand the world that you live in and the people who live in it. Whether it’s learning about another culture or learning how to work with different people, you can’t design for the world if you don’t understand large parts of it.

DL: This is Black History Month. Do you feel there’s a lack of understanding out there on the contributions of people of color?

DW: After I graduated from Art Center, one of the first jobs I had was being a teaching assistant for a computer class. In that class there were a couple students of color and one day one of them said, “You know, it’s really interesting, there just aren’t many people of color in art or design.” And I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I don’t hear about them.” And I thought, how is that possible? This was 1995! My father was not only an artist but an educator, so I went to him and said, “Okay, Dad, give me some names.” I came back to the students with a two-page list of contemporaries and  discussed some of the people on the list. They had no idea there were so many. The point of this story is that all students, not just students of color, should understand the diversity out there.

Dana L. Walker (center) in "Photography as Contemporary Art," an Art Center at Night course taught by instructor Bia Gayotto (3rd from L), which she has taken four times. Photo: Four Eyes Photography

DL: Can you tell me a little bit more about your Dad?

DW: His name is Larry M. Walker. He’s retired now, but he was a professor of art at the University of the Pacific (UOP) in central California, then Director of the School of Art and Design at Georgia State University. My family moved out to California from Detroit when I was five years old. -. My dad had his studio out in the garage at home, so he was always out there  painting. As kids, if we wanted to go out there and create something, there were always materials to work with.  At some point, I fell in love with photography and started borrowing his camera, and that’s how I got started on that path. I grew up watching him create and teach art; my brother, sister and I used to hang out in the Art department at the UOP in the summers But as a kid I never really thought about becoming an artist or being involved in art education. That all happened later.

DL: What about your mom, was she a supporter of your pursuits?

DW: Yes, she was a big supporter. She did a lot of craftwork herself. She took classes in batik and created wearable fashions. She taught me how to sew and she’s always been very supportive of whatever her kids wanted to do in terms of art. And this ties back to when I first started working at Art Center at Night. I’d meet these students whose parents were saying, “No, being an artist is not a viable career.” They wouldn’t even support it as something their kids could study as a hobby. I couldn’t believe it! Whose parents would say that? So that’s a place where I felt I could make a difference. Art and design is a viable career path. And even if you’re just taking it as a hobby, it’s something rewarding and worth doing. If it’s something you enjoy and are passionate about, why shouldn’t you have a chance to pursue it?

"improvisation z" from Walker's "abstract spaces" series. © Dana L. Walker Photography

DL: Can you tell me about your own work?

DW: First of all, I don’t paint. That’s something that took me years to be able to say to my father! (laughs) My interest was always in photography, graphic design and advertising, but I’ve always liked abstract painting. Right now I’m taking an Art Center at Night course, Photography as Contemporary Art with Bia Gayotto, for the fourth time. Prior to studying at Art Center, my focus was more in fine art photography and fine art concepts. I grew up looking at art and thinking about it conceptually, but I had never really thought about how I would make a living. So when I came to Art Center, I decided my focus was going to be on the commercial side so I concentrated on architectural photography. Which I did for some time, but my true passion really is fine art concepts with photography as a medium. Bia’s class is great for this. So two years ago in her class I started exploring the idea of abstract painting but with photography, which is some of what I’m still doing to this day.  Some of my work is less abstract but all of it deals with spaces.

DL: What’s it like to be the director of the program but also a student?

DW: Let’s just say not every instructor is so keen on having their boss in class. (laughs) But Bia and I were already friends before the course and I did ask her ahead of time if she’d be okay with it. I told her I just wanted to be a student and that I didn’t want to be a boss during class time. I also wanted her to not mention it to the other students at the beginning of the course. I knew people would figure it out eventually, but by the time that happens, hopefully then I’ll just be one of the students. I don’t want people to think they can’t share their work with me. There’s usually a scholarship student in the class and at some point they realize my name is on the bottom of that scholarship letter. That can be intimidating. But it’s intimidating for me too! I have to perform here. I have to do my homework! (laughs)

Interested in learning more about Art Center at Night (ACN)? Visit the program’s website, “like” its Facebook page and come to Experience ACN April 15–17, 2013.

—Mike Winder

Related:

Adding value to the world: Art Center at Night student Julienne Johnson

Special Forces: Sisters memorialize father’s legacy with Public Programs scholarship

In search of textured stories: An Illustration student explores children’s books by African-American illustrators

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