December 08, 2023

ArtCenter College of Design Establishes the Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship for Students Pursuing a Master's Degree in Art

Scholarship honors Kelley’s legacy as influential mentor and teacher

ArtCenter College of Design has announced the establishment of the Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship, which will greatly increase access for the next generation of artists to the College’s world-class Graduate Art program while serving as a lasting tribute to one of ArtCenter’s most beloved and influential instructors. Among the most prestigious scholarships offered to ArtCenter students in any discipline, the Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship will provide generous financial support to an MFA student through to their graduation. Because the scholarship is supported by an endowed fund, it will honor, in perpetuity, the indelible mark that Kelley made in the lives of scores of artists as they prepared to launch their own creative practices.

"During his 20 years as an educator at ArtCenter, Mike mentored such art world luminaries as Pae White, Sharon Lockhart and Jennifer Steinkamp," said Karen Hofmann, president and CEO of ArtCenter College of Design. "He is remembered as one of the most influential artists of our time, and this scholarship allows us to honor his legacy as an equally influential mentor and teacher."

A true labor of love, the Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship owes its existence to an extraordinary coalition of donors who each understand the critical importance of providing financial aid to art students while also ensuring that Kelley—one of the most acclaimed artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries—is also recognized and celebrated for his parallel career as a life-changing teacher.

The scholarship was spearheaded by the graduate Art program’s Free Grad Art initiative, which raises funds to establish endowed scholarships to help minimize the indebtedness of its MFA graduates. The initiative’s inaugural effort was Artists for ArtCenter, an auction of works donated by ArtCenter alumni and faculty members—including Aaron Curry, Stan Douglas, Nathan Hylden, Sharon Lockhart, Ivan Morley, Shahryar Nashat, Joshua Nathanson, Laura Owens, Sterling Ruby and Diana Thater—whose lives and careers were touched by Kelley. Hosted by David Zwirner Gallery, Artists for ArtCenter raised $660,000, which provided the seed funding for the Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship.

“This is the ideal way for us, as artists, to collectively support the next generation of artists,” said Douglas, chair, Art MFA and co-chair Art Department. “Our vision is to grow our department's endowed scholarship funds and make our program more accessible to more diverse candidates.”

Inspired and moved by these artists’ exceptional generosity, the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts (established by the artist during his lifetime), stepped forward with a $100,000 grant and an unprecedented pledge to match additional contributions to bring the endowed fund’s value to the milestone level of $1 million.

"We were so touched by the creativity and extraordinary commitment of this group of artists that the Foundation wanted to build on this powerful momentum," said Mary Clare Stevens, executive director of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. "Providing access to an ArtCenter education is an ideal way to further the foundation’s investment in emerging artists and expand the diversity of students pursuing an Master of Fine Arts degree in art.”

Five members of ArtCenter’s Board of Trustees (Phillip Sarofim, Jeffrey Barbakow, David Martin, Janice Feldman and Steve Hitter) quickly rose to the occasion with contributions totaling nearly $150,000, enabling the College to take full advantage of the Foundation’s extraordinary challenge grant.

The visionary generosity of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, the Artists for ArtCenter donors and other graduate Art faculty members, the College’s Trustees, and Kelley’s friends and admirers who have contributed to his scholarship fund has already had a major impact on a graduate Art student’s life. "I am very happy and appreciative to learn that I was selected as the first recipient of the Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship," says Omar Ceballos, who will graduate with an MFA in Art in the Spring term of 2024. "This scholarship will help me find my path as a Chicano artist."

Ceballos, a first-generation student, is a painter and sculptor, whose work also extends into printmaking and textiles. "My art allows me to explore cultural narratives, content, symbolic and ethnic pluralism," he says. "I do my art practice in a way that reclaims my cultural heritage through materials—mi cultura."

The Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship will support students with both need and merit in the Art MFA at ArtCenter College of Design.

In addition to the Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship, the artist's legacy lives on in those he taught and mentored during his time at ArtCenter from 1986 until 2006, including Sharon Lockhart, renowned photographer and experimental filmmaker, and Pae White, acclaimed multimedia visual artist.

"Mike was brilliant, funny and empathetic. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the most arcane aspects of American pop culture and always had the perfect suggestion for moving your work forward," said Lockhart, who graduated from ArtCenter with an MFA in Art degree in 1993. "His connections to New York, Europe and Japan made possible a constant stream of interesting visitors, whose presence were a lasting influence on both my work and life.”

As Kelley’s career was ascending at a rapid pace, White worked as his student assistant. During that time, she asked Kelley if he felt a need to step back from teaching, to which he responded that he felt a deep desire and obligation to educate the next generation of artists.

“As a former student of his, I can say that Mike’s classes and advice were a testament to that commitment. His information was deeply researched, thorough beyond belief, and expanded my understanding of art making in every possible way—something I appreciate every day as a working artist,” says White, who graduated from ArtCenter with an MFA in Art in 1991. “Even though Mike is no longer with us, the Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship fund is the best possible way for his passion to continue in his absence."

If you are interested in supporting the Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship or Free Grad Art, please contact Natalie Montoya Farrow, director of development, Major Gifts, at 626 396-2435 or

About Free Grad Art

Planning for the Free Grad Art scholarship initiative began in 2018. The Art MFA full-time faculty decided to form a Grad Art Advisory Board composed of current faculty and select alumni. Current Advisory Board members are Chris Birchby (MFA 01), Aaron Curry (MFA 05), Stan Douglas, Laura Owens, Jason Smith, Bruce Heavin (BFA 93) and Diana Thater (MFA 90).

This board worked to strategically address an issue faced by many North American MFA programs: the rising debt levels of young artists. The high cost of attending the top MFA programs means many artists leave these institutions with crushing debt, conditions that make it difficult to live and work as artists when they leave school. For many excellent young artists, the cost is an insurmountable barrier. While many arts institutions serving the larger art world thrive on the basis of a strong tradition of philanthropy from patrons, support for burgeoning artists in graduate-level programs remains largely overlooked.

About Art MFA

The Art MFA at ArtCenter (also known as Grad Art) is based on intensive studio practice and rigorous academic coursework. The Art MFA is distinguished by its low faculty-to-student ratio that provides students with the attention and feedback they need to refine and achieve their artistic goals. Faculty and students are artists working in all genres—film, video, photography, painting, sculpture, performance and installation. A significant number of alumni have achieved national and international acclaim and often return to share their insights and expertise as visiting faculty and guest lecturers.

About ArtCenter College of Design

Founded in 1930 and located in Pasadena, California, ArtCenter College of Design is a global leader in art and design education. ArtCenter offers 11 undergraduate and 10 graduate degrees in a wide variety of art and design disciplines. In addition to its top-ranked academic programs, the College also serves the general public through a highly regarded series of year-round online and on campus extension programs for all levels of experience. Renowned for both its ties to industry and its social impact initiatives, ArtCenter is the first design school to receive the United Nations’ Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status. Throughout the College’s long and storied history, ArtCenter alumni have had a profound impact on popular culture, the way we live and important issues in our society.

About Mike Kelley and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts

Mike Kelley (b. Detroit, 1954, d. Los Angeles, 2012) is widely considered one of the most influential artists of our time. Irreverent but deeply informed, topical yet visionary, Kelley worked in a startling array of genres and styles, including performance, installation, drawing, painting, video, photography, sound works, text and sculpture. Established by Kelley in 2007, the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts seeks to further Kelley’s philanthropic work through grants to arts organizations and artists for innovative projects that reflect his multifaceted artistic practice. The Foundation also preserves the artist’s legacy more broadly and fosters the understanding of his life and creative achievements through educational initiatives including exhibitions, educational events, publications and the preservation and care of the Foundation’s art collections and archives.

Teri Bond
Media Relations Director
ArtCenter College of Design
626 396-2385 office

Mike Kelley, pictured at right in black, taught in the Graduate Fine Art department at ArtCenter College of Design from 1986 until 2006. Photo by Steven A. Heller.
Mike Kelley, pictured at right in black, taught in the Graduate Fine Art department at ArtCenter College of Design from 1986 until 2006. ©Steven A. Heller/ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California
Painter and sculptor Omar Ceballos is the first recipient of the Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship.
Painter and sculptor Omar Ceballos is the first recipient of ArtCenter's Mike Kelley Endowed Scholarship.