Elizabeth Bayne: Can you tell me about your career path?
Dana Walker-Juick (BA 95 Photo): After graduating from ArtCenter, I worked for about 10 years doing architectural photography. It evolved into my working for ArtCenter's continuing education program. I like working around creative people, creative students, creative faculty; it's just a fun environment to be in. I've been working at ArtCenter for 26 years.
EB: When you hear 300 Black alumni in 90 years — what does that mean to you?
DWJ: It's a shockingly low number, but it's surprising to me because when I was in school here I saw maybe 14 other Black students. And so 300 is more than I thought it would be.
EB: I imagine that in 26 years you've seen the student body, like the demographics change.
DWJ: In my program, we've been making efforts to increase the number of students of color. At times, we see that we are making some inroads. But it's still too low.
EB: Is there something we can do about that?
DWJ: My hope with this exhibition is that it will highlight some of the accomplishments of artists of color and maybe encourage not only parents, but counselors and students to see themselves in these roles.
EB: Why is that important?
DWJ: It's important to me personally because my father's an artist and was a professor of art, so I've grown up knowing that I could make a career in this field. I want others to know that this is possible.
EB: When did you make the decision to become a creative?
DWJ: It wasn't a hard decision, but I didn't make that decision until I was 32. When I went to college initially, I figured I knew about the art world. I wanted to see what else I could do. I liked writing and ultimately wound up graduating with a degree in public relations and journalism.
EB: How did you learn about ArtCenter?
DWJ: I may have heard about ArtCenter from my dad. But I wasn't ready to go when I was 18. After I graduated the first time, I started taking photography classes at LA City College. The instructor brought the class up to campus one night for a photo shoot and it was like this magical place on a hill.
EB: What was your first impression of the school?
DWJ: I was probably more terrified than anything because I was an older student; I had quit my full-time job. I was working part-time, even though they said you shouldn't. I had to.
EB: Were you the only Black person in your class?
DWJ: I was the only Black person in the photography class at least. Let's just say it's something I've been used to all my life. It's just par for the course. Is it right? No. But that's what it was.
In ArtCenter's 90-year history there have only been approximately 300 Black alumni. Impact 90/300, a documentary by Elizabeth Gray Bayne, profiles 25 of them. This series revisits each interview from the film, originally created for ArtCenter DTLA's 90/300 Exhibition.
I'm an artist first. I happen to be Black. My work is a reflection of who I am. But it's very different from other Black artists. I find it very hard to categorize myself that way.Dana Walker-JuickManaging Director, ArtCenter Extension
EB: Is it any different now?
DWJ: I don't think that anything has really changed; there are still too few students of color. My experience might be different because I was an older student. If there were things I disagreed with, I had no problem pulling an instructor aside and letting them know. If I was right out of high school, there was no way I would challenge an instructor.
EB: What's important about speaking up?
DWJ: I needed to voice my frustrations with whatever was going on. If an instructor didn't want to use me for an assignment because "it would throw off the readings." I said, "Well, maybe you should use me because students should learn what the challenges are. If they have to light a scene a different way, they should use people of different skin colors so that they know what they're doing."
EB: What did the instructor say?
DWJ: Silence. But it was out there.
EB: What does it mean to be a Black artist or do you think that question is clichéd?
DWJ: I actually do not like the question. I'm an artist first. I happen to be Black. My work is a reflection of who I am. But it's very different from other Black artists. I find it very hard to categorize myself that way.
EB: Did ArtCenter prepare you to live your truth as an artist?
DWJ: One of the reasons I chose ArtCenter was because of its focus. ArtCenter not only prepared me for my career, but gave me so much more.
EB: How have Black students contributed to the larger creative industry?
DWJ: It's extremely important for Black students to be involved in art and design. Because this is part of humanity. Everything in the world is designed by somebody, so why not by us? Why not have everybody involved in shaping the world? Early on in my job as a counselor for ArtCenter, I had a parent of a young student interested in animation. She didn't see a lot of students of color, so she was concerned about her son being here. I said, "That's why he needs to be here because his voice is important and needs to be heard by everybody here."
EB: What could we be doing as a community to increase diversity at ArtCenter?
DWJ: One, this first exhibition should not be a one-off. This will allow people beyond ArtCenter to understand what artists do, and that they're artists and designers of color out there. Ideally, I would love for this to become a larger project and involve other schools. It could be nationwide; it could be worldwide.
*This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Photo credit: Everard Williams
ArtCenter's Commitment to Black Lives
Erin Taj is the art director at MEL magazine & Dollar Shave Club