Storyboard: Richard Holbrook

How I went from being practically unemployable to being my business

I would be the first to tell you that my path to ArtCenter wasn’t exactly well-considered.

I grew up in a blue-collar family in Orange County. True to my SoCal roots, surfing, motorcycles and cars were pretty big preoccupations for me growing up. My dad was always working on something in our garage, which got me interested in the mechanical nature of things from the time I was big enough to hold a wrench.

Still, money was tight around our house. The notion of going to college at all, let alone “art school,” seemed out of the question. Not that I ever really had any traditional interest in being an artist.

Though a career in design was the furthest thing from my mind at the time, I knew I wanted out of my family’s construction business. I had one high school art teacher who saw some spark of talent and my interest in the way all things fit together, visually and functionally.

One day, he handed me a catalog from a place that would alter the course of my life entirely – ArtCenter College of Design.

At first, I thought it was too good to be true. “You can get PAID to design cars?” Little did I know how far that question would eventually take me.

I never thought of college as a place to explore or experiment or find out about yourself. Coming from my background, college was a path to a better life, plain and simple. This was something I told myself repeatedly as I found myself driving an hour and a half to school each way. And during the many, many hours of homework I was soon buried in.

When I completed my studies, I was amazed how many doors opened for me. I was offered jobs in Detroit, Frankfurt, and Paris. Obviously, I went with that last option. I mean, Paris? For a hardscrabble Orange County kid to find himself on the boulevards of the City of Lights was more than a dream. But strangely enough, it had become my reality.

I took a job with Automobiles PSA Peugeot/Citroen, and soon was working side-by-side with some of my ArtCenter peers on projects I couldn’t have fathomed in my wildest dreams. We were young, brash Americans with more creative opportunity than we knew what to do with, and all of Europe at our doorstep.

What ArtCenter allowed me to do was learn and grow as an artist and designer, under the instruction and mentoring of experienced professionals who were also gifted and inspiring teachers. I was surrounded by other students driven, determined and pushing themselves to do and be more than they ever thought possible.

There have been plenty of happy accidents along my path. I only stayed in the auto industry for four years, but those years were some of the most formative of my working life.

I think I’m probably unemployable by nature. I’ve only technically had jobs twice in my post-college life. It’s hard for me to suck it up, play nice and do the whole corporate dance. My time at ArtCenter gave me the self-confidence and tools to create my own business and control my destiny.

To say I am grateful for the experiences and gifts the college gave me would be an understatement. The fact is, I owe ArtCenter a tremendous debt and I would venture to say I’m not the only one who feels that way. That’s why I helped start FullCircle. It’s a great way to stay connected to our community.

My generation often refers to the ArtCenter experience as a sort of “Jedi training,” and the connection to other alums and this shared experience is pretty powerful.

We do some cool things together at FullCircle, but for me the coolest is giving something back in the process—helping to make the same experience we had at the College possible for other young people. ArtCenter is great at helping artists and designers who are just starting their own journey to discover “the force” within themselves. And who knows where that can lead?

Richard Holbrook
CEO, Richard Holbrook (design)
ArtCenter Trustee and Co-Chair, FullCircle
BS 1981 Transportation Design

My time at ArtCenter gave me the self-confidence and tools to create my own business and control my own destiny.

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Mapping Scenes from a Creative Life