I’ve worked as a teacher at ArtCenter for 44 years, having taught everything from Basic Design to Environmental Graphics to Typography. I’ve raised money and volunteered for the College, I served on its Legacy Circle board, and I’ve been a design consultant to the College, but I never attended a class there.
In 2000, along with friend and fellow teacher Leah Hoffmitz, I was made an honorary ArtCenter alumnus. After all these years, I still feel ArtCenter coursing through my DNA.
I grew up obsessed with cars. I was the shy kid in every art class, and was always busy working on illustrations, map diagrams, and crazy lettering. In those days, a popular design contest was the Fisher Body Craftsman Guild competition. General Motors was the sponsor, and the winners were granted a scholarship to ArtCenter: a mysterious palace of learning in California that served as home base for the country’s premiere future car designers.
Unsurprisingly, my high school hero was a teacher. He was a “cool teacher,” meaning he drove a Studebaker Hawk and played Peter, Paul, and Mary records in class. This inspiring instructor taught his classes like college classes, outlining rudimentary art skills while allowing room for experimentation. The idea that someone could get paid to teach art was tremendously appealing to me.
I never heard the words “graphic design” until college. By this point in my life, the prospect of teaching was fairly far from my mind. I told myself: I am a designer. In hindsight, maybe becoming a professor of design was the perfect compromise.
When I first hit the LA design scene in the mid-‘70s, one of my pivotal mentors was John Follis. By this point, John already had the reputation as one of the most legendary, sought-after multidisciplinary designers on the West Coast, and he was teaching at ArtCenter’s old 3rd Street Campus in Hancock Park.
One day, John asked if I would fill in as a substitute teacher in his Graphic Design class. I was terrified. What did I, a novice designer from the Midwest, have to teach an ArtCenter classroom? To this day, I still get those butterflies before each first day of a new class.
In 1977, Advertising/Graphics Chair Chuck Davidson offered me the opportunity to teach a class of my own. Keep in mind, none of this was planned in advance. Good fortune has everything to do with it.
The classroom offered me a new platform for communication. There was a satisfaction in knowing that, as a teacher, I was adding value to someone’s life. A teacher gets a certain brain-buzz from seeing that “aha” moment happen in real time. They come to life in a classroom, and the rest of their lives become about chasing that next “aha” moment.
I would teach four-year-olds or graduate students – it doesn’t matter. I really enjoy teaching! I even get a rush from walking across any beautiful, historic campus. There’s a purity to it, a rarefied atmosphere, and you get the sense that there are great minds hard at work.
I’ve served under four College presidents and worked under upwards of 10 Graphic Design Chairs. I witnessed the transition from the College’s Old Campus to both the Hillside and South Campuses. The fact is, ArtCenter is still one of the premiere art and design schools in the world. That has not changed. I doubt it ever will.
What has changed is that a lot of other schools have caught up, mainly by following ArtCenter’s example. To the College’s credit, it keeps raising the bar. ArtCenter students are in step with the world’s changes. They are designing cars of the future before they end up in Detroit, and they’re working on cutting-edge computer graphics before the industry has picked them up.
If the world is evolving and changing, ArtCenter is evolving and changing with it. What a blessing it’s been, to be along for the ride.
Honorary Alum, ArtCenter College of Design
Founding Principal, Hunt Design