Storyboard: Jo Ann Shimizu Stabile

A reverie on becoming me

I was born and raised in Tokyo. My work has brought me all over the globe, though I currently reside in Oakland, California.

I suppose what you may be asking yourself is how I ended up at ArtCenter.

When I was still in Tokyo, my dad would frequently go out and play golf. One day, he came home from golf with a man he had not played with before – a man he described as “interesting.”

That interesting gentleman turned out to be famed industrial designer Alan Shimasaki, the former head of American Motors in Detroit. As it turned out, Alan was an ArtCenter grad whose industrial design career had begun in Tokyo.

After my old man did some strategic sweet-talking, Alan indulged me with a visit to his office. Stepping into his space as an unseasoned novice was mind-blowing. I didn’t necessarily understand what “design” meant in any traditional sense – I just saw the work on display and it inspired something primal in me.

Of course, Alan wasn’t able to take me on as a designer in any official capacity. I had no experience and no training to speak of. So I took a job as a receptionist at an international industrial design office. After two months, I asked Alan if he thought I had what it takes to actually become a designer.

He suggested that I go to ArtCenter. Perhaps then, he said, I would be able to answer that question on my own.

To say that I was intimidated would be an understatement. My grasp of English at the time was not great. What’s more is that the work coming out of ArtCenter was nothing short of staggering.

Nevertheless, I remained determined to attend. Later, legendary art teacher Mary Sheridan interviewed me for the initial admissions process. She couldn’t have been kinder to me. After my initial interview went well, I began to feel more comfortable with the idea of an ArtCenter future.

There’s a certain amount of pride that comes with attending ArtCenter. To be able to say you made it through the process in one piece gives you a kind of distinction. Even without a perfect grasp of the English language, I was determined to excel in this world at all costs.

I now live in Oakland in what I call peaceful semi-retirement. I get to live close to my daughter, which affords me a measure of inner calm. If I’m being honest with myself, I had to force myself into retirement. Being at ArtCenter instilled a work ethic in me. What once seemed demanding is now achievable. Even talking about ArtCenter now, I am overcome by the dueling sensations of pride and nostalgia – pride for having made it through the wringer and nostalgia for times I’ll never get back.

ArtCenter gave me the confidence to fight for my ideas. To excel in the world of design, one needs to be fluent in the financial side of the medium. ArtCenter equipped me with the knowledge to go toe-to-toe with those in the corporate world and also to value my own sovereignty.

When I say that I was nostalgic for ArtCenter, I don’t mean that my memories of the place are all sunshine and roses. I worked hard at ArtCenter, from my first day to my final term. I endured many sleepless nights and demanding classes, and I worked with some of the best instructors in the nation.

After I graduated, I took my portfolio to the office of Mary Sheridan, who told me that a company she knew of had a recent opening for a senior designer. The rest is history. I’m sure there are ArtCenter instructors who are doing similar favors for their students right now. It’s all part of the cycle of a creative life.

Jo Ann Stabile
BFA 68 Advertising
Former Creative Director of Packing Design at Mattel/Max Factor/Vidal Sassoon

ArtCenter equipped me with the knowledge to go toe-to-toe with those in the corporate world, and also to value my own sovereignty.

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