Iconic Hillside building under construction

ArtCenter History

Since 1930, ArtCenter has prepared students to become artists and designers who, in turn, have gone on to impact nearly every facet of our lives.

Millions of individuals across the globe see work by our graduates each day, whether it’s a corporate logo, a postage stamp, an advertising campaign or art on display in a gallery. Their imaginative work—everything from music videos, television shows and feature films to books, magazines and websites—opens our eyes to new perspectives.

Our graduates focus on human-centric solutions, which we enjoy in the cars we drive, the shoes we wear, the phones in our pockets, and the environments we experience.

Our alumni include some of today’s leading car designers (Michelle Christensen, Luc Donckerwolke, Franz von Holzhausen), filmmakers (Larry Fong, Dennis Gassner, Zack Snyder), concept designers (Kendal Cronkhite, Ryan Meinerding, Neville Page), artists (Doug Aitken, Rebeca Méndez, Pae White), product designers (Yves Behar, Natalie Candrian, Martin Lotti), spatial experience designers (Ini Archibong, André Kim, Tim Kobe) and many others who are shaping culture with their talents and vision.

We are proud of our alumni and the many ways that they continue to shape our lives. And we are honored to continue the tradition of preparing tomorrow’s creative leaders today.

ArtCenter’s co-founder and first president was advertising man Edward “Tink” Adams. In 1930, frustrated by the poor quality of the work being created by recent art school graduates, Adams took matters into his own hands and pioneered a no-nonsense curriculum to prepare artists and designers for roles in publishing, advertising and industrial design. The ArtCenter School, as it was then called, proved both visionary and effective. Even during the Great Depression, our alumni found employment.

While we’ve changed dramatically since those days, our educational model is still rooted in Adams’ forward-thinking vision.

Since the earliest days of the College, the caliber of our faculty and visiting artists has been extraordinary: Ansel Adams taught photography here; on a visit to campus, Keith Haring painted a mural; pioneering video and installation artist Diana Thater teaches in our Graduate Art program.

Our alumni are equally impressive. Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art convinced 20th Century Fox to fund Star Wars. Barbara DuMetz’s photography placed African Americans at the center of national ad campaigns. Kenji Ekuan’s designs brought us everything from bullet trains to the ubiquitous Kikkoman soy sauce bottle.

Our original campus was in a courtyard of buildings on West Seventh Street in Los Angeles, a site sufficient for ArtCenter’s then 12 teachers and eight students. By 1940, enrollment had grown to nearly 500 students representing 37 states and several foreign countries. After the war, returning veterans pushed enrollment numbers even higher, prompting a move in 1946 to a larger building on Third Street, as well as a commitment to a year-round schedule. In 1948, our renowned Automotive Design Department—now Transportation Design—was founded.

A year later, ArtCenter became an accredited four-year college, and offered its first bachelor’s degrees in Industrial Design, Photography, Illustration and Advertising. We played a seminal role in the founding of the first advanced-concept design studio for the automotive industry in the 1950s.

We have long taken a global view of the importance of design and art, and Adams was the first to encourage ArtCenter’s international relationships. One of the turning points came in 1956, when the Japanese External Trade Recovery Organization began sending students to ArtCenter. From 1986 to 1996, ArtCenter ran a second campus in Vevey, Switzerland. Today, we continue to leverage opportunities as they arise in the world, sending our students to work on projects across Europe, Asia and Central and South America, to address particular design challenges.

Throughout our existence, we continued to grow with, and often anticipate, the many cultural and technological landmarks of the 20th century while refining our educational tools and methodologies to remain on the forefront of art and design education.

Tink Adams was a terrific guy, and he knew exactly what the profession needed in preparing young people to run the world—it needed a school that could address that. We wanted to be leaders in the field, so it wasn’t a matter of training, but a matter of truly understanding. A school like ours was unusual back in those days.

Don KublyArtCenter President

Reflecting the College’s forward-looking momentum, new undergraduate departments have been added over the decades: Fine Art in 1967, Film in 1973, Graphic Design in 1984, Product Design in 1991, Environmental Design—now Spatial Experience Design—in 1992, Entertainment Design in 2008, and Interaction Design in 2012. In 2017, the College launched a minor in Social Innovation; in 2020, it launched minors in Business, Creative Writing, Research, and Material Science. In 2022, the College’s First Year Immersion began offering an alternative pathway for students still deciding how to focus their creative energies.

The College has also expanded its offerings into post-baccalaureate studies. Graduate degree programs were launched in Film in 1975; Art in 1986; Media Design Program—now Media Design Practices—in 2000; Industrial Design in 2004; both Environmental Design—now Spatial Experience Design—and Transportation Systems and Design in 2012; Graphic Design in 2016; and Furniture, Lighting and Fixtures Design in 2021. In 2022, the College offered its first completely online degrees by launching two Master of Design programs—Brand Design and Strategy, and Interaction Design.

We moved to the Hillside Campus in Pasadena in 1976, into an iconic building designed by the modernist architectural firm Craig Ellwood Associates. In the 1980s, we were the first design school to install computer labs, spearheading the revolution in digital design. In 2003, thanks to our groundbreaking Designmatters social impact initiative, we became the first design school to receive Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status by the United Nations Department of Public Information.

In 2004, ArtCenter established its South Campus in downtown Pasadena to accommodate the College’s overall growth. Since then, the campus, located at the terminus of the historic Arroyo Seco Parkway, has grown to encompass three sustainably renovated facilities—a former post office sorting facility, supersonic wind tunnel, and office building—all of which have been designed to integrate the College into the surrounding community and greater Los Angeles.

While remaining focused on its core educational mission of developing creative leaders and innovators in art and design, in recent years the College has also made progress toward addressing historical inequities at the institution. In 2018, ArtCenter appointed its first ever chief diversity officer, a role which lead to the establishment of a new Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Art and Design at the College. In 2022, ArtCenter named Karen Hofmann, its then provost and a former chair of the Product Design program, as president and chief executive officer. An alumna of the College, Hofmann is ArtCenter’s sixth president and first woman to hold that position. Following major tenants of its strategic plan, the College continues to explore means of diversifying the voices of its community and expanding its reach to historically underserved populations.

Our story is one that continues to unfold—and to be told.