Jori Brown (BS 15 Environmental Design)

Jori Brown

Leveraging cultural observation, natural intuition, eclecticism and Wikipedia rabbit holes, Jori Brown is a designer/laborer working on concept development, illustration, small-scale art direction and architectural design.

Elizabeth Bayne: In ArtCenter’s 90-year history, there have only been 300 black alumni. Why do you think that is?

Jori Brown (BS 13 Environmental Design): You can't ever dismiss the history of being ostracized or oppressed — those factors definitely come into play. I think in some ways we're limiting ourselves in the Black community by what we think our avenues of expression can be. If a Black person says, I'm an artist, people are going to think you’re a rapper or you produce beats or something like that. I don't think young people explore the idea of being a sculptor or a film director or media designer enough. There isn't as much of the glamorized exposure in these other disciplines, but there are so many more avenues to express creativity outside of beats and rhymes.

EB: What can we as a community of creatives do to counter those images, counter those stereotypes?

JB: Don't be so predictable. If you're a Black creative, do your thing. The more creativity we see and the more expression we see, the more exposure we have, the more youth are going to see it. They're going to have questions and be curious.

EB: How did you learn about ArtCenter?

JB: While I was attending the Illinois Institute of Art. I remember this kid in my class had a book with drawings of characters, little environments, vehicles and props — basically, the development of an idea and a story. When he said he got it in the student store, I ran, I actually ran, and I was just consuming this book, over and over. At the end, I saw that it was student work from a school called ArtCenter College of Design.

About the Series

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.

If you picture a circle, and if Black people only represent a sliver, that's not enough to be heard. You want to have multiple perspectives — you don't want to just hear one voice.

Jori BrownDesigner/Laborer

From Words to Action

ArtCenter's Commitment to Black Lives

EB: What was your first impression of ArtCenter?

JB: I flew to San Francisco where my brother was living at the time. Never been to California. We drove down to ArtCenter, and came up through the hills — by the way, there are no hills in Illinois, (Chicagoland) no mountains — and it's just kind of unreal. The student work was phenomenal. I remember I was on the bridge looking toward the mountain, and I told my brother, "Yo, I'm about to go to this school. Watch."

EB: What was your worst grade or project review, and how did it make you better at what you do?

JB: I've never been in a crit where they didn't think it was cool or a good design, that’s just never happened to me. However, there've been multiple times where I did not finish strong and I had to email the instructor like, "Hey, didn't make it." And I think I've learned a lot from those experiences.

EB: When you enrolled, how many black people were in your department?

JB: I think one — just me and Ini. There were no other Black people on campus in Environmental Design, so that was how me and him became homies.

EB: Reflecting on the numbers: 300 black alumni in 90 years — should there be more? And if so, why?

JB: If you picture a circle, and if Black people only represent a sliver, that's not enough to be heard. You want to have multiple perspectives — more voices, more diversity is better. You don't want to just hear one voice.

EB: Do you think the College could accomplish that?

JB: It's possible. There will have to be some changes, for sure. More voices heard. When systems are a certain way and they've been established like that for a long time, it's hard to change things. People are reluctant, so if you want to change for the better and be more diverse, then it's going to be challenging.

*This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Photo credit: Everard Williams