Art Center’s Hillside Campus is extraordinary for so many reasons—its internationally recognized modernist steel-and-glass structure; its iconic bridge; its idyllic placement in the hills above the Rose Bowl—but for all its wonders, its single greatest attribute is its front-and-center placement of the student gallery. Walk into the building and the message is clear from the start: student work is what this college is all about. It was truly an inspired choice by architecture firm Craig Ellwood Associates.
And what work our visitors discover! Repeatedly, they are dazzled by the ideas on display—the cleverness, the innovation, the beauty—and compelled by their fine execution. They immediately know our school is filled with talented, dedicated and professional students, and they get a palpable sense of the capabilities of our graduates. We’re known for that, and the gallery has done an incredible job of presenting our brand to the larger world.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the student gallery is that the work on display isn’t a “greatest hits” compilation from our most well-known alumni—imagine curating that mammoth exhibition!—but work from undergraduate students who are still in the process of completing their education.
Walk through the gallery today and you’ll see an impressive array of work our students are creating: exquisitely crafted transportation design models that hint at automotive forms you’ll see on the road one day soon; powerful packaging concepts that drive our choices of new products; motion graphics that mesmerize while presenting complex information; and solutions for the disabled community that show how human-centered problem solving, social impact and quality design can all come together.
I loved the thinking behind the student gallery so much that when I first began serving as Art Center’s President, I decided to extend its philosophy into my own workspace. Today, whenever anybody steps into my office they’re treated to some of my favorite student works, all of which were recently exhibited in the gallery.
One piece currently in my office, impossible to miss, is a large-scale work by Photography and Imaging alumnus RJ Mintz (BFA 13) of a pink-haired, blue-tongued girl holding a frozen soda drink. I love its unexpected use of color, its clever ironies and cultural satire, its playfulness—all of which make it simultaneously fun and alive, weird and thought-provoking.
Also hanging in my office now is a painting by Fine Art alumnus Tammy Chang (BFA 14), who was a brilliant student of mine from the Shakespeare class I taught a few terms ago. Always on display in her work are her tremendous imagination, bold use of color and superb sense of proportion. For months now I have received constant positive feedback on that piece.
The last work from my office I’ll mention is a Rawlings ad created by Advertising alumnus Jesse Yowell (BFA 12)—the only piece in my office I don’t rotate out every term. It’s part of my permanent collection, if you will. Everything from its leathery surface to its clever copy (“Every Hall of Fame baseball has two signatures. One is always the same.”) is simply pitch perfect.
My most gratifying experience relating to displaying student work occurred approximately one year after I began my tenure here as President. June Korea (BFA 12), then a Photography and Imaging student, visited me and said he had been feeling very insecure about his creativity but, through a faculty member, had learned that I chose his work—a captivating photograph of a saxophone player—to display in my office.
He told me that act was the affirmation he needed to regain his confidence and to turn his career around. June was an amazing student, so in no way do I credit my selection of his work with his success, but it does tell me that Art Center’s decision to focus on student work is absolutely spot on.
Lorne M. Buchman, Ph.D., is President and CEO of Art Center College of Design.