ALUMNI ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS HIGHLIGHT THE IMPORTANCE OF ART IN A TECH DRIVEN WORLD
Long before tech giants Facebook, Google, Apple, YouTube and Twitter moved into the Bay Area, the community was impacted by giants in a different field: art. Writers, musicians, artists, and designers have had a long love affair with San Francisco and its surrounding cities, influencing and driving the culture of the area. Though our world is rapidly being changed by technology, art still plays an important role in our development and success as a community. Art and design offer audiences a creative reflection of the world today, and the work of our artists and designers will be the historical artifacts of the Bay Area’s future. While in school, students at Academy of Art University are engaging with the community, contributing their creative services, and leaving a lasting impression on the city and on the Bay Area as a whole. And when they leave school and venture out, the alumni take a little of what San Francisco has given them to share with the world.
Giving Back: Affordable Housing
Mary Telling, an alumna of the Academy of Art’s School of Architecture, has taken her design skills and refocused them in a surprising and important new direction: affordable housing. Now working as a project designer for affordable housing projects throughout the Bay Area, Telling has dedicated herself to giving back to the community that she loves. Currently the project architect for 2060 Folsom, a new affordable housing project featuring 127 apartment units for families and transitional-age youth in the Mission District, Telling embraces opportunities for community-building among residents. “Working in affordable housing in San Francisco has changed the way I think as a designer, because I’m thinking about the experience—how does the tenant feel when they’re walking into the space?” Telling said. “It’s not about me anymore. It’s about the community I serve.” 2060 Folsom will be located across from a brand new public park that is now under construction, which will hopefully bring the community together, as well as help with neighborhood beautification.
A Beautiful Legacy: Public Art
An important part of any community is its public art. It connects the people in a neighborhood and imbues outdoor spaces with something that the residents can discuss, debate, and engage with. San Francisco has a well-known legacy of public art, and today, students from the Academy of Art’s School of Fine Art and Illustration are adding to that legacy by creating a mural for Samesun Hostel on Franklin Street. Under the guidance of Fine Art Executive Director Craig Nelson and instructor Carol Nunnelly, the students are enrolled in a mural painting class that in prior years has installed murals on many Bar Area landmarks. This year, Xiaolu Lin (MFA, School of Illustration) created the winning art deco-style design that will show the Ferry Building, Japan Town and other elements of San Francisco, with graphic images seamlessly flowing throughout the piece. Lin created the design after thinking about thematic concepts that link San Francisco to the world around it. Samesun Hostel is thrilled with the choice, and hopes that upon completion, the renovated property and the mural itself will contribute to a more vibrant neighborhood. Located among mostly two- to five-story buildings along a commercial corridor in the Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood, the Samesun Hostel will offer hotel rooms in a part of the city close to California Pacific Medical Center facilities, allowing medical personnel and family members of patients an affordable option for visiting.
Representing on the National Stage
Art doesn’t always have to hang on a wall or be painted on the side of a building. Just ask Brandon Kee, a 2016 BFA menswear design graduate who was recently able to show his work to millions through his participation on Season 16 of the Lifetime series, Project Runway. Proving himself early and often, and finishing as one of the top four finalists, Kee’s fashionable designs had a unique point of view that was a winner with models, judges, and audiences. “He has a particular point of view that has even influenced other designers on the show,” said judge Nina Garcia, editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, during the finale. “That’s what you want from a designer, to inspire and be a trend setter.” This season, the show celebrated body diversity with models ranging from sizes 0 to 22, and Kee’s designs maintained a sophistication and execution that won him four challenges during the show. Kee said that the experience was a true test of his abilities, and “was really a testament to knowing who you are as a designer, your taste level, what you’re picking out. It really kind of pushed you to figure out who you are as a designer, and through that process, you find that out rather quickly.” Kee said his Layers of Love collection that showed during New York Fashion Week was inspired by his girlfriend, Dina Marie Lam, an Academy MFA fashion design graduate.
Above and Beyond: Art in Space
Brandon Kee is just one example of alumni whose impact and influence have reached beyond the Bay Area’s local communities. Space itself will be highlighting the art of Forest Stearns, who received an MFA in Illustration in 2010. Now working for Planet Labs, Stearns has produced the largest known art show in space. Creating art on satellites came about after Stearns met Planet Labs co-founder Robbie Schingler at a “Curiosity Camp” hosted by Innovation Endeavors, a venture capital firm. Planet Labs is a private earth imaging company that designs and manufactures satellites. Stearns was at the camp representing artists and designers, and after hearing Schingler give a romantic speech about the future of aerospace, he had an idea. “Did you know that World War Two bombers had pin-up girls painted on them? Robbie, let’s paint on your satellites.” Forest Stearns has now created four years’ worth of artwork for Planet Labs, with art on 95 percent of its satellites, and now manages the artist in residence program at Planet Labs. Stearns is leading the charge in making sure art remains relevant and prevalent in our tech-fueled world. “We’re creating a conversation among Silicon Valley artist-in-residence programs and other programs to facilitate artwork as value added to the company.”
Making a Difference
With his art more firmly planted on the ground, Andrew Schoultz, who graduated from Academy of Art with a BFA, recently exhibited 15 hand-painted skateboard decks at The Bricks Ybor in Tampa, Florida. But the profits from the show won’t be going back to the artists, like you might expect. Instead, all proceeds will go to a local non-profit, Boards for Bros. “I’ve been paying attention to what Boards for Bros. has been doing for a while. They go into underprivileged areas where there are skate parks, or they’ll set up a mini skate park for a weekend, and they give away boards and helmets to those who don’t have them. Right now, skateboarding is the new ‘hoop dreams.’ Some of the most talented kids are coming from underprivileged areas. Skateboarding can really save you, and I think there’s a lot of power and purpose in what they’re doing,” Schoultz said. As a California skateboarder for most of his life, Schoultz has ties to the Tampa community through Paul Zitzer, the SkatePark of Tamps (SPoT) Events Operations and Public Relations, and Spot owner Brian Schaefer. Zitzer and Schoultz grew up in the same city, and Schaefer and Schoultz connected at ArtBasel Miami last year. “I’ve been a skateboarder all my life, but as an artist I’ve emerged into doing things all over the world. Skateboarding has informed everything I’ve done to this point as an artist and a person,” Schoultz said. The work of these artists and many more continue to show communities throughout the country and the world that art matters. Through murals, fashion, housing design, and skate decks, the work of these influential alumni continues to inspire and impact those who come into contact with it. They’ve proven that art and design provides graduates with a multitude of ways to engage in collaborative and truly meaningful endeavors. To learn more about how you can become a part of this new wave of artful engagement, go to www.academyart.edu
Academy of Art, Circa 1985