Storyboard: Stella Hernandez-Salazar

Chasing a Dream – Without Sleep

I was born in the big, noisy city of Bogota, Colombia. I received my Bachelor’s in Industrial Design from Xavier University, after which I proceeded to find employment in furniture and hospitality design.

My dream was always to design interior spaces, and then to design everything within those spaces. I was interested in architecture, but was unsure that it would afford me the creative control that I desired.

I moved to the United States. I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio for a short time. Eventually, I found myself in Los Angeles. Through a friend, I was invited to see an ArtCenter grad show. Believe it or not, I’d never even heard of ArtCenter.

Once I saw the show, I was mesmerized – not just by the work, but also by an approach to design that was completely fresh. ArtCenter became my new dream. Finally, I thought, a place where I really could design everything within a space.

There was only one problem. I didn’t have money for tuition.

As a compromise, I began taking ArtCenter at Night classes. Around that time, I became pregnant with my son, and stopped everything I was doing. I was bringing a life into this world. This child needed my attention. My job became clear to me: I was a mother now.

So, for the time being, I walked away from my dream.

An ArtCenter advisor saw my work and asked me why I didn’t apply to the College’s regular program. I told them it wasn’t something I was able to afford. She insisted not only that I apply, but also that I make myself stand out from the crowd by translating my life’s experiences into my work. So, I did just that.

I was accepted to ArtCenter, the beneficiary of a generous scholarship. All the while, I had a toddler at home. Friends often ask me how I made it through ArtCenter while raising a kid. To be honest, I have no clue. Here’s my answer: I didn’t sleep for four years.

My son really grew up during my ArtCenter years. I brought him to explore the campus, to exhibits, and to every grad show. My son grew up surrounded by art, design, photography, and film. To think he’s currently off on his own art college journey is surreal.

I graduated with Honors, which is something I’m still proud of. I found myself back in the ArtCenter orbit again with Safe Agua, one of the College’s first sponsored undertakings that was designed explicitly with social impact in mind. Safe Agua was envisioned as an immersive educational experience. Students would create work that addressed the difficulties of finding safe drinking water for lower-income families in Chile, specifically, those who lived in the campamentos, or slum developments, outside of Santiago.

I don’t think I understood, before Safe Agua, that design has power that extends far beyond the art world. In other words, design empowers people to solve real issues that impact communities around the world.

These days, I’m teaching at ArtCenter, where it all began. As an educator, I’m fortunate enough to participate in taking students abroad. Through our partnerships with a non-profit organization in Chile that offers free treatment to children with burn injuries, we’ve been able to develop projects that strengthen empathy as part of the design process. Like ArtCenter’s best, students are constantly chasing their dreams, and learning how to help others along the way. I am so happy to see how many of them have found a new professional path in social design.

Through my personal work, I aim to celebrate the blend of influences in my own heritage. Currently, I’m working on a personal project that combines elements of my own cultural identity into furniture and lighting. It’s a project that reveals a great deal about who I am, and it’s a way for me to inspire other marginalized artists.

Be authentic. Bring your own experience to whatever you do. Rules are meant to be broken. Authenticity and roots live forever. My purpose is to inspire artists to use design as a means to empower others who are in need of a voice.

Stella Hernandez-Salazar
BS 11 Environmental Design, with Honors
Assistant Professor, Environmental Design, ArtCenter
Professor, ArtCenter Extension/Public Programs

Be authentic. Bring your own experience to whatever you do. Authenticity and cultural heritage stays forever.

Stella Hernandez-Salazar
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