Elizabeth Bayne: In ArtCenter’s 90-year history, there have only been 300 Black alumni — what's your reaction to those numbers?
Ridgley Curry (BA ‘82 Graphics/Packaging): We started something maybe six or seven years ago called the 120 Group, and at that point, we had 120 graduates we knew of. But we didn't have the funding they [Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at ArtCenter] have now. So this is really nice to see. And it's nice to see the numbers are 300.
EB: Does that mean there's been 180 ArtCenter alums since then?
RC: Possibly. And I think that's a great thing; that's good progress.
EB: A lot of people react to 300 number with shock and dismay, but is there another interpretation?
RC: It's about awareness, influence. Growing up, I knew very little about art, other than to be an artist, you had to die and maybe your paintings made money. I ran into an instructor at a junior college who said, "You've got some talent. If you really want to pursue this, you should look at ArtCenter." It was like, "You mean I can do this and make a living?" I think that was the key.
EB: What was your first impression of campus?
RC: I was afraid. It was something new. I got here in '79, and there weren't that many African Americans. So I just buckled down, tried to hang, do the best I could. And luckily for me, I had a good class. The students were very competitive, very creative. And we all stuck together. We didn’t want to break up the group because everyone was good and everyone challenged everyone else. It was just fun.
EB: Is that representative of ArtCenter?
RC: ArtCenter drives that; that's a part of ArtCenter’s philosophy and why you come. Because most students were older — I think I was 26, 27 — that was the last draw as far as what you going to do as a career.
EB: You were an early pioneer of computer graphics — was that because of ArtCenter?
RC: When I graduated in '82, computers had just come into play. We had gotten a few computers. Right around the corner here [at ArtCenter], there’s a closet that they put the computers in. I was able to create a logo on and plot it on the computer and it turned out great. I was like, "OK, this is the future" and I dove into computer graphics.
A couple of years later Jim Blihn from JPL got involved here in the computer graphics department. One of the alumni that had graduated from here, Clement Mok, went to Apple. Clement did the branding for Apple, customized the font, the look and the feel. Another alum named Russell Brown worked for Adobe and that’s how we got the computers here. They were looking for instructors, so I started the first class here.
EB: What does it mean to be an ArtCenter graduate?
RC: As a creative director and if I see someone who graduated from ArtCenter, I know what they went through and I know I can push buttons; I know they won't drop out. I call it the med school of art. It's a group. You go through that hardship, those all-nighters, you get this bond. I treasure that and I think that's a good aspect of ArtCenter — they instill in you to work very hard.
EB: Whether the 300 number is large or small, what does it mean to you that ArtCenter is celebrating these graduates?
RC: I think this is a good start. And ArtCenter is funding it. When the 120 group tried to do it, we had no funding. It was all on our shoulders. And we were busy designers trying to make it and that's difficult, especially if you're Black, unfortunately.
The sad thing is, I felt that everyone kept their work to themselves; they didn't really want to share. I think people were threatened, so it kept us separated because of that sense that there’s only so much to go around.
EB: Do you think that idea is true or false?
RC: I think it's true that there's not a lot of work to go around. There's only so many of us in the arena who get the chance to work at that level, as a creative director doing film, TV or working with high-advertising budgets. It's changing. But I think that's why we're not a strong group because everyone keeps everything close to their vest. It's unfortunate.
EB: What do we do about that?
RC: I think we just have to trust and try to be better at sharing. It's sad; it really is. I wouldn't say we can't work together. I think it's something we have to work at. There's a history of something that's been instilled in all of us; it was done to us on purpose. But the younger generation, I think you're more open to share and that will make the difference.
EB: Whose responsibility is it to have more representation on campus?
RC: There are a lot of talented artists out there who need to know there's a career in art and design. But it takes money, it takes funding to reach these people. I think that's the job of ArtCenter, so I commend ArtCenter for doing what they're doing at this point. But it's taken 90 years; that's a long time. But it's a start and it's a good start.
*This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Photo credit: Everard Williams
It's about awareness, influence. Growing up, I knew very little about art, other than to be an artist, you had to die and maybe your paintings made money.Ridgley Curry (BA ‘82 Graphics/Packaging) Creative Director & Entrepreneur
ArtCenter's Commitment to Black Lives