Erin Taj (BFA 12 Illustration and Graphic Design): When we were here, there were only like six of us on campus, so it makes sense. Not in a good way, but just in a not surprising way.
ET: We’re all so creative. We should definitely be coming here and getting these skills and being in those positions professionally. I'm still the only Black woman in my department, and I've been in this industry for almost 10 years. It’s kind of sad, I want there to be more Black people around me.
ET: You need diversity, period, to get multiple angles on things. You can't just have a team of straight white dudes making the art. In my position, I'm able to search for people of color, women, LGBTQ+ people and bring them into the circle, and also pay them a fair rate, which is important. We get paid.
ET: If people on my team come to me and say, "This freelancer's cool," it's like, "Yeah, their work's cool. What's their background?" We need to start switching this up, doing more research. That's what Instagram, the internet is for, going down wormholes and finding new shit, right? Hire more people of color, diverse people with diverse perspectives. It's not that hard to do.
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 still the only Black woman in my department, and I've been in this industry for almost 10 years. It’s kind of sad, I want there to be more Black people around me.Erin TajArt Director
ArtCenter's Commitment to Black Lives
ET: No, my grandfather was a painter; my dad's a mechanical engineer. It just trickles down in my family. I grew up with art around me, so it was a natural transition for me.
ET: My mom actually, because I grew up in Pasadena, she got a bunch of brochures when I was in my junior year of high school. She was like, "It's really expensive. You have to apply for hella scholarships and grants."
ET: I graduated high school at 16. I was really young. I didn't know what graphic design was. I had no real view into any of that stuff until I came here. I was like, "Oh, this is awesome." Figure drawing, color theory, design theory, art history — it was adding structure, giving the fleshy, vague idea of what an artist can be, some bones and some muscle.
ET: Not a lot, I think there were four of us in the illustration department proper.
ET: There needs to be more outreach for sure. I think part of preparing for graduation should be doing something philanthropic or going out and being a mentor. If you want to enter into a work space, you're going to have to be mentored by whoever you work with or start to mentor other people. I think that you should start cultivating that as soon as possible and it should be a part of the curriculum, absolutely.
ET: I don't think I got any bad grades. There were difficult projects. We were supposed to read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, and do a hundred still frames a night for an animation. I just could not keep up; I dropped out of the class in the third week. I was like, "This is not what I'm doing for my career.” But I respected it, and I loved the book.
ET: I'm Black, I'm an artist, I'm a woman, I'm bisexual. I'm all of those things, and I am just one thing, which is me, Erin Taj.
ET: I think it means being honest. When I was in school, I didn't have any Black instructors. So finding a voice and a space to present certain ideas didn't really come until I was working in the field. I'm not beholden to doing whatever the assignment is. It's more like, "I genuinely want to see this, to draw this, to feel this, to experience this, so I'm going to do it." I think that being honest is really important with Black work and with Black expression.
ET: One time, I was in class and I drew this woman who had six legs and her legs were kind of open. She was crawling around the page and had black goo dripping from her vagina. My teacher pulled it off the wall, he was like, "Absolutely not." And I was like, "Are you kidding me? Why not? What makes you so uncomfortable about this image?" I couldn't figure it out. That definitely sticks with me.
ET: I think it translates into my career because now I just go with my gut, and I don't second guess my work. I don't second guess myself ever when it comes to my work. I got rid of that while I was here.
*This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Photo credit: Everard Williams