Kevin Bethune
Designer and Entrepreneur

Kevin Bethune

Kevin Bethune is founder and Chief Creative Officer of innovation think-tank, dreams • design + life.

Elizabeth Bayne: In ArtCenter’s 90-year history, there have only been 300 black alumni — what's your reaction to that?

Kevin Bethune (MS '12 GradID): Mixed emotions. There are so many hidden stories in the art and design industries out there that need to be told. Hidden figures, if you will. We have a huge responsibility to provide mentorship and exposure to the broader community, to let them understand the power of an ArtCenter path. It's a striking reinforcement of the need to get the message out.

EB: You didn't start as a creative — how did you transition into the field?

KB: I always had a curiosity for creativity. I drew for a hobby. But where I grew up in the Midwest, design was a distant notion. With my parents sacrificing so much to send their children to college, the perception was there had better be a solid job on the other side of it. I made the pragmatic choice to study engineering because I liked math and science and the intersections, and engineering had some degree of drawing in it. It wasn’t until later that I got to Nike and saw professional designers for the first time, many of whom were ArtCenter alums. That opened my eyes to what design represented and the problem-solving process it entailed. I saw a little bit of myself in that, and it made me very curious to learn more.

EB: When you got here, what was your first impression of the school?

KB: I remember driving up to Hillside for the first time. I just couldn't believe the gravity of the building. Taking the tour, meeting my department chair, I felt a strong welcome. Looking at the work in the gallery and feeling the atmosphere of hard work that permeated the hallways, I was a little scared at what this next life chapter was going to be about.

EB: Were you the only Black person in your program?

KB: I wasn't. Byron Wilson was my classmate. At first, I didn't see Byron. At the very last minute he came in, and it was sort of a visceral sigh of relief that there would be someone who looked like me — someone I could spar with, problem-solve with, and become friends with.

EB: Did you have a favorite instructor?

KB: Andy Ogden was very pragmatic and straight to the point when it came to classroom instruction and critique. But it was the out-of-class moments when you could catch him in his office, he was always willing to give me so much more one-on-one time. All the wisdom that I walked away with in those moments was just pivotal for me. He definitely became a mentor and I even check back with him quite often since leaving.

EB: How would you define yourself as a professional?

KB: Definitely a professional designer as the tip of the spear. But I am consciously aware of the beautiful spectrum that design can have when it overlaps with art. The power of storytelling, the power of narrative, the power of formulating a point of view that actually gets people to lean forward.

EB: How did ArtCenter shape your identity and how you approach things as a designer?

KB: When I walked out of here, I was still probably wobbly kneed trying to internalize what those technical skills, processes, methodologies meant for me while carving a career — or the next chapter of a career.

EB: Are you there now, 10 years later?

KB: I'll never be there fully. But I'm a lot happier that my knees are no longer wobbly. I've done some things that allowed me to step forward with confidence and credibility, thanks in part to ArtCenter. But also thanks in part to allowing myself to explore my personal convictions.

EB: 300 black alumni in 90 years. Whose responsibility is it and what do we do about it?

KB: I think we have a tremendous responsibility to provide mentorship to the youth to help them see, among the Harvard’s, Stanford’s and HBCU's of the world, there's ArtCenter. And you have a tremendous legacy of Black alums who have gone out into various arenas and really shaped change. There are a lot of hidden stories, a lot of hidden jewels. I think we all can have a hand in connecting, getting together to form a good community to channel that energy and expose more people to the power of this place.

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

Kevin was a recent guest on our Change Lab podcast — listen as he discusses his strikingly diverse career-path.

You have a tremendous legacy of Black alums who have gone out into various arenas and really shaped change.

Kevin Bethune (MS ‘12 GradID) Designer & Entrepreneur

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.

From Words to Action

ArtCenter's Commitment to Black Lives