Jom Rivers (BA 13 Fine Art): I’d say it's low. I hope it improves. When I started, I was the only Black student in the Transportation Design department for that term. One of my instructors told me when he started at ArtCenter, he was the only Asian student in that department. That was actually encouraging because he was a very accomplished designer traveling the world. It encouraged me to lead by example — get myself in a position where I can give back later.
JR: There are probably a lot of different reasons. I didn't hear about ArtCenter until I was in a community college course and I met someone who was attending ArtCenter. When I saw the campus, I fell in love with the facility. But aside from that, I did not know the school existed.
JR: When I started in transportation design, it was rough. I was used to being at the top of the class in community college and high school. But in transportation design, an instructor told me that my drawing skills were really holding me back. After retaking a few classes, I got it together. I do appreciate the rigor that was in the program. The foundation skills I got in industrial design are like none other, so it was definitely worth it.
EB: Did ArtCenter prepare you to live your truth?
JR: ArtCenter prepared me to be who I wanted to be. Somehow all my instructors knew when I started that I was not in the right place. They kept asking me if I figured out what I wanted to do yet and I couldn't figure out why until I changed majors the first time. I started in transportation design, did some film in the middle and I graduated with a fine art major. I feel like ArtCenter really did encourage me to explore and figure that out on my own.
EB: How has ArtCenter prepared you for your career?
JR: I have more of a critical eye to perfect whatever project I'm going into. I'm also not fearful of taking on a new project. Nothing seems too ambitious after you're used to some intense failure.
EB: What does it mean to be a Black artist?
JR: Being a Black artist means that whether I want to or not, I represent people who look like me when I do my art or whatever I do. I know it's a question that comes up, and people feel differently about it. But I am a proud Black artist, so I'm just going to do me. Do it as best I can.
EB: 300 Black alumni in 90 years — why do we need to do better?
JR: Because I appreciate the education I got here. I feel like I have some skills that have helped my lifestyle and my career significantly, and I would like to see other people have that same opportunity.
EB: You just said it needed to get better, but do you think it will get better?
JR: I think it will. I feel like we are creating a path for younger people to come through here.
EB: Your mom is an artist, right?
JR: My mom, Alile Sharon Larkin, is a filmmaker, artist and educator. She was one of the UCLA LA Rebellion filmmakers in the '70s. She wrote Dreadlocks and The Three Bears for me in the '80s, but wasn't able to get it published. Instead, she made a short, 7-minute video dissolve animation. After I got out of ArtCenter, I had the skills and resources to finish the book.
*This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Photo credit: Everard Williams
Being a Black artist means that whether I want to or not, I represent people who look like me when I do my art or whatever I do.Jom RiversArtist, Designer, Fabricator
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