Dan Bustillo
Dan Bustillo Art and Technology MFA 14

When I first looked into the Art & Technology program at CalArts, I was especially excited to see that not all of the work students in the program were making could be thought of as explicitly having to do with technology. From pneumatic sculptures, to operatic performances, to videos about technology, I was thrilled at how broad the concerns of the program were. 

The experience I had of the program certainly fit the malleability I was initially drawn to. I was supported by my mentors to take classes in other programs, which allowed my practice to become increasingly interdisciplinary. A similar diversity was also present within the program itself, where my peers came from very different fields, spanning engineering, performance, poetry, e-textiles, architecture. Such a sprawl of backgrounds proved incredibly helpful during critiques as well as when we would collectively workshop projects and ideas. Because my cohort was small, we were all familiar with each other’s research and interests, which ultimately prompted us to be far more thorough with our work. I felt a sense of deep care from my peers and faculty.

My mentors, Tom Leeser and Tom Jennings, each brought very different concerns and perspectives to my work, challenging it at each moment of its development, equally in terms of the research itself as well as its multiple outputs and formats, which included a written thesis, a presentation, and an exhibition. Tom Jennings’ fierce commitment to material explorations coupled well with Tom Leeser’s challenges to the work at a theoretical level, gifting me with sufficient support and room to form a multivalent and rigorous practice.

C.O. Thomas
C.O. Thomas Theater MFA 2008 Project Manager, Fox Filmed Entertainment

Suzan-Lori Parks introduced me to CalArts while I was working for The Public Theater in New York. I wanted the opportunity to expand my horizons because by the time I visited CalArts, I knew how to do small theater. Round three-fourth thrusts, proscenium arch—that’s how you present to mainstream audiences. I knew that art, but I didn’t know the avant-garde.

I’m currently a project manager overseeing every live project for 20th Century Fox. We have live international, touring theatrical shows; we have character meet-and-greet programs in mall shows; we have museums and exhibitions and 4-D projects around the world... I don’t have a 9-to-5 job. It’s non-stop. I have an office at Fox—there are two other CalArts alumni there—and I got the job through an alum that I went to school with. Our director of business development is also a CalArtian, and we’ve pulled in two interns from CalArts, which is great for us. They have the skills and class experience under their belts, and knowledge that we would have to teach most other people. There are only two schools in the country with classes in themed entertainment, and CalArts is one of them.

Cristina Fernandez
Cristina Fernandez Acting MFA 14

I think there is a higher level of expectation for an actor-artist at CalArts than at other places. You’re an active participant in making a piece of art. When I started, I didn’t think I had that capacity as an actor to make my own work; I didn’t understand the language. I’ve begun to create my own work and produce projects. I’ve stretched past being an actor-performer. The cool thing is that you start to trust your own wacky ideas. We all have that experimental part in us, and you begin to honor that. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t, but you learn. CalArts is this great experiment.

I was always amazed at how kind, open and excited people were to share and see each other’s work at CalArts. There’s a true collaborative spirit in the Theater School and the entire Institute. You naturally start to find folks, and you begin to find yourself in a group of people that you trust and that trusts you.

Jenny Foldenauer
Jenny Foldenauer Costume Design MFA 12 Ovation Award and L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award-winning Costume Designer

As a little girl I wanted to be a painter, but soon realized that textiles and clothing were my medium. What I love about costume design–which is different from fashion–is that I am creating characters, parts of new worlds imagined by a writers, directors, set, lighting and sound designers—and even the actors—we’re all coming together to create a living, breathing canvas, to tell a story.

My first crucial career contact was made at portfolio review at the end of my last year at CalArts. I met Matthew McCray, the producing artistic director of Son of Semele, who hired me for Our Class. Through that, I connected with Jessica Kubzansky at the Theatre at Boston Court, for which I did Everything You Touch. That was a huge endeavor, atypical for a 99-seat theater. I had more than 130 costumes for an eight-person cast, and there were a lot of logistical and technical issues, before we even before got to the creative. There were three model characters that had to represent scenery, that went off stage and back on several times, and changed into different parts because there were, literally, 22 scenes that switched back and forth between two time periods. A lot of theater magic!

To someone considering applying to CalArts, or to an accepted student, I would say this: explore all of your options, meet, collaborate, and network with as many people as possible—and remember that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Make the most of it.

Leila Navon
Leila Navon Music Technology BFA 14

Like most music students, my background was in classical music. Before coming to CalArts I thought I wanted to do studio recordings, DJ-ing and scratching with vinyl records. But when I got here, I realized that the art world is much larger than I had imagined. In my second year I attended the Bijou Film Festival on campus, and I just fell in love with film. Even though I didn’t have a compositional background, I wanted to create and collaborate with filmmakers. It wasn’t as much about music as it was about sound.

The Music Tech Program at CalArts is relatively new. It’s a completely wild world that includes everything from studio recording and producing, to building interactive robots that play music with a band—any and all projects in which music and technology meet. The faculty is wonderfully accepting—they are all artists themselves. My mentor completely understood where I was coming from and where I wanted to go. Though I’ve worked on many conventional projects, most of my sound designs, especially the experimental pieces, are very different from what you’d hear in Hollywood movies. They’re auditory experiences—which is what I think music is.

Stephanie Moorehouse
Stephanie Moorehouse Strings MFA

I was inspired to play the violin at age 6 after watching a live performance in Branson, Missouri. My mom encouraged me to pursue it and after my first lesson I knew that the violin was going to be my passion. As I studied the violin, I began to branch out from my classical training and started to teach myself how to fiddle. I wanted to explore beyond the classical violin and become a diverse violinist. As I began researching graduate schools, CalArts immediately caught my attention. I was impressed by the string faculty profiles, Lorenz Gamma’s in particular. CalArts’ emphasis on “'applying creativity to your art”' inspired me to audition here. I wanted to expand as an artist. CalArts gave me a chance to reach my full potential as a musician. I was challenged with contemporary, electronic, baroque, rock, and classical music all under one roof.

CalArts also inspired me to explore my abilities beyond classical music. This school is the perfect place to experiment with many different performance styles and techniques. After my time at CalArts, I feel confident and prepared knowing that I am able to perform a wide variety of music. The true experience of CalArts lies within yourself and how you spend your time here.

Carmina Escobar
Carmina Escobar VoiceArts MFA 10 Voice Artist

There’s a great interest in the voice right now—throughout the culture—in the arts, in music and philosophy. It’s all about extending one’s own corporeality. My sound art springs from my concept of the voice, which is my primordial instrument. I relate to the world through my voice; it’s a physical experience. Some projects may not even express the voice in the end, but getting there is always a physical process. For example, at an ecology residency at Guapamacataro, a partner and I designed robots with Arduinos and sensors–which I discovered at CalArts—and I composed a four-note melody, which he transcribed into code. The Arduinos were encoded with that, and then information was gathered through the sensors, which was mixed with data from the environment.

Something unique about CalArts is that it prepares you to perform other people’s music; repertoire; but on top of performance practice, you’re also specializing and developing as an artist with your own creative process. What I do ranges from Baroque to contemporary music, however, it’s all community-based, project-oriented work with other artists. I also teach classes here at CalArts, which I love.

Ian Walker
Ian Walker Composition BFA 15

My mother was a pianist and my first piano teacher. I sang as a child, took a break right around adolescence when my voice dropped, and I began singing again in rock bands when I was 15 or 16. After some classical training I realized how much I enjoyed singing classical music, and at CalArts, decided to focus on that aspect of my practice. What drew me to the school was that I could do multiple things at once here, and wouldn’t have to specialize.

CalArts is a great place for people that are self-motivated, have strong ideas and want a place to workshop them and bounce them off other people. You receive criticism from many points of view because there’s so much going on here, which is a really wonderful thing. You can run the gamut from pop music to experimental doom metal to purely classical. There are always things to learn from different kinds of music and I think that’s something that we’re experiencing especially strongly in the 21st century: that classical music isn’t the “end all be all” of performance practice, of compositional practice—same for pop music, jazz—or any other kind of music. We can learn from all of them, and I think CalArts does a great job of encouraging students to do so.

Andreas Levisianos
Andreas Levisianos Performer-Composer DMA

As far as I know this is the only composer-performer doctorate program that exists. It’s not a typical dual degree; instead it combines the two notions. As a composer, pianist and a conductor, I was presented with the opportunity to exercise all, merging the ideas of analysis, synthesis and performance.

The faculty is invested in the students’ ideas; they influence them while not trying to impose their own. There is not one school of thought. They want us to evolve our own thinking and write the music that we want to write. Surrounded by these amazing composers and performers—both students and faculty—you find the motivation to think, exercise your craft, compose and perform.

Stimulation does not come only from my discipline. Being part of one of the best art schools in the country offers you the opportunity to get in touch with artists that exercise different crafts, are from different ethnicities, backgrounds and ideologies; to exchange ideas with people doing things entirely different than you are, but who share your will to collaborate and communicate.

As a doctoral candidate at CalArts, my responsibilities also include teaching undergrads, so I understand that very “productive confusion” that some can have in the beginning, and that I, too, had in my early 20s. You look at the course offerings and you want to take everything. It’s the candy shop. Everything is appealing. Everything can be stimulating. So, your guard is down and your eyes and ears are open to everything. You want to take advantage of what people offer you and what you offer them. This truly is a community.

John Schwerbel
John Schwerbel Jazz BFA 14 Artistic Planning Coordinator, Los Angeles Philharmonic Association

When I entered CalArts I thought I was only interested in performing, but two amazing teachers and mentors, David Roitstein and Lauren Pratt, widened my scope of possibilities. I learned concert production from Lauren, who hired me to produce the Charlie Haden concert at REDCAT, as well as the concert at the Wild Beast honoring the 25th anniversary of the partnership between Capitol Records and CalArts. For Charlie, I was in charge of logistics such as managing the band, leading rehearsals, helping him program the repertoire, and I just fell in love with producing music events as an art, in and of itself. Immediately after graduation I took an internship with the L.A. Philharmonic, worked with the L.A. Opera for a short time, and now, I have a full-time position with The L.A. Phil, which, of all major orchestras, is perhaps the most forward-thinking and adventurous in terms of interdisciplinary multimedia productions.

I don’t see artistic planning or music production, or performance as separate. They’re all very much one and the same, because at the end of the day, the audience walks out of Walt Disney Concert Hall or the Hollywood Bowl or the Wild Beast at CalArts having had a moving experience that has changed them in a fundamental way. So, regardless of what side I’m working on, whether I’m collaborating with the artists, going over scores with soloists, working with their managers, or executing concerts, it’s all art and it’s all having an affect on an audience.

Tariq Tapa
Tariq Tapa Film Directing MFA 08

When I came to CalArts I had limiting preconceptions about how to achieve the kinds of dramatic effects I wanted in my films. The faculty helped by pointing out precisely where I had missed opportunities in editing a scene, or possible moves for the characters that I hadn’t considered—always pushing me to look deeper at the mechanics of a story, at the consequences of my casting choices, and to think 10 moves in advance when staging action for the camera.

Most other schools teach skills, which are important, and are, of course, taught at CalArts, but these are only a means to an end. You can learn technical skills almost anywhere, but I think only CalArts seeks out students with something to say and helps them find ways to say it. You’re not just encouraged to take risks here—you’re expected to. And the Program helps you find the courage.

Vashti Harrison
Vashti Harrison Film and Video MFA 14

My graduate thesis film was about folklore and ghost stories as told through the voices of members of my mother’s family in Trinidad. There’s an element of narrative in my work, but it’s not purely narrative; there are no scripts or actors. It’s most easily referred to as "experimental" because, depending upon the story that I want to tell, it may take the form of a documentary on 16mm film or on video, or it may be a photo series, or take another form.

I applied to a lot of film schools and I got into a couple, but honestly, it was the moment I walked into CalArts that sealed the deal for me. CalArts is like its own little ecosystem and you feel that when you walk into the building. I came for a visit and tour on the admitted students weekend. Instantly, the atmosphere was inspiring. But the moment I felt it was a no-brainer, was when I saw the students’ work. I thought, "They have a great faculty here and if I have the opportunity to learn from them, and become part of a personal community with these people, my work will certainly expand and flow and change. It’s really impressive."

The Program in Film/Video was most supportive of me and I grow a lot as an artist here. Having a mentor like Betzy Bromberg—the queen of experimental work in the program, and someone who knew my work and chose to be my mentor—was an invaluable experience. It was so important that I was in this Program because I’m a filmmaker, but I’m also an artist, trying to make those two things work together.

Kirsten Lepore
Kirsten Lepore Experimental Animation MFA 12

Before coming in to CalArts, I’d been freelancing for clients such as Google, Whole Foods, Facebook, Toyota and Nestlé, but I wanted to get more serious about directing—about becoming the one in charge. I looked at the CalArts website and found the student work incredibly inspiring. I thought, "I want to be there. There must be some magic in this place."

My stop-motion work has a handmade, rough-around-the-edges feel, but also a clean sense of design. It became a marketable niche. Bottle was made at CalArts with the support of my mentor and faculty—as well as student-to-student collaboration—that, at times, was just as helpful. I like to play with different materials, and for Bottle, I animated, with sand and snow. I’d never seen that done before and the film got a lot of attention.

Just after I released my thesis film online, the showrunner from Adventure Time called and said they’d seen it and that they’d love for me to create a stop-motion episode for them. It was the first time that I had a whole team of professionals working with me, which was amazing. I’m also happy to be teaching at CalArts. It’s nice to come back and say, "Hey, I graduated recently and I’m able to make my living doing these things. Let me help you so that you can also be successful, too." I can’t imagine doing it at any other school.

Daron Nefcy
Daron Nefcy Character Animation BFA 09 Creator of Disney Channel’s Star vs. The Forces of Evil

I was pitching ideas for shows while I was still a student at CalArts. My first job out was on Warner Bros.’ MAD. It ran on Cartoon Network for many seasons and was cool because I got to make my own mini films. Then, I worked at Nickelodeon as a storyboard revisionist on Robot and Monster. I pitched Star to Disney and, eventually, it went into development. It took a year to make the pilot, and when that was done, I took a job on Wander Over Yonder at Disney, a Craig McCracken show. Now, I’m full-time on Star, which is in its second season.

I think the reason so many alumni are running shows, is that all animation students at CalArts have to make their own films every year. Producing a TV show is like making a bunch of mini CalArts films—except that you have a whole team helping you—and you have to make them extremely quickly. But the experience of learning every part of the process is so important. While you’re learning to write and storyboard, you’re also animating, finding actors, getting music, and editing. You graduate with four films, and, of course, your final film is much better than the first. It’s inspiring to be at CalArts. Everyone’s artistic style is different. You’re pretty much living with these people; working in cubicles that are open all night. It’s like being in the trenches with all these wonderful artists with whom you form close relationships. It’s really a special, special place.

Daniel Charon
Daniel Charon MFA 13 Artistic Director, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Salt Lake City, Utah

By the time I enrolled at CalArts, I had performed for 15 years, and was focused on my choreography and teaching. CalArts gave me the time, space and support—with my mentors, faculty and my peers—pushing me forward saying, "Yes, you are capable and ready to do other things. Yes, you can take risks; that’s how you’re going to grow as an artist." The experience transitioned me into a whole new realm of my career by giving me confidence and skills. At CalArts, dancers are asked to think as artists. That’s unique and profound. As someone who now hires dancers, I don't want people who only know how to dance. I want artists who know how to speak through movement. Today, many choreographers work collaboratively, and look to dancers for inspiration. I think because CalArts has such a strong creative side, its dancers are well equipped to participate in that process. When they’re asked for ideas, they’re exceptionally creative.

Crystaldawn Bell
Crystaldawn Bell Dance BFA 08 Dancer with Robert Moses’ Kin Dance Company

It was such a great feeling to be a greenhorn at CalArts, knowing that I had the faculty behind me—and the whole student body, too, trying to help me understand who I was as an artist. The faculty nurtured the type of dancer that I was, and that I am. I’m 5’10” and very muscular. I like structure and athleticism; I like being out of breath at the end of a piece. I’m lifting people as well as being lifted.

Transitioning from school to professional life was a little bit harder than I thought it would be. Not the road to getting gigs—there are always people who need someone in the space to help generate movement. I transitioned into performing quite easily. But being in class at CalArts from 9 in the morning until, sometimes, 1am. You can’t just stop dancing. I had to pay for classes and find people who could challenge me and help me grow the way the teachers at CalArts did. Should I take both ballet and modern, every day, as I did at CalArts? Those were the issues.

Anne-Marie Kinney
Anne-Marie Kinney MFA 08 Kinney’s first novel, Radio Iris was published in 2012 by Two Dollar

The two most important things about the Writing Program for me were the mentorship—being pushed by, and being championed by, faculty—both while I was at CalArts and after I graduated. Also, the peer group with which I’m still in contact. We had daily workshops; a handful of people working on the same projects for two years, who knew each other’s work really well. Taking criticism and learning how to communicate better based on that feedback, is important, because most of the time you’re trying to write on your own; you’re in a vacuum. You have no idea whether readers are going to pick up what you’re putting down. It’s valuable to learn that you can build from that criticism rather than being destroyed by it.

CalArts is a great place to be if you’re not sure exactly what you’re doing yet, and you want the room to grow and find your style or your niche. You’re encouraged to experiment, and there are some great faculty members that say, ‘What you've done here is good, but you need to go further.’ Or, maybe, ‘What you’ve done here isn’t so good.’ I gained a lot of confidence. When I came out of the Program I felt like I was no longer a dabbler. It also taught me discipline and good habits–having to produce work on a weekly basis.

Amarnath Ravva
Amarnath Ravva Integrated Media MFA 04 Ravva’s first book, American Canyon, was published by Kaya Press in 2014. He teaches writing and American Literature at Glendale Community College.

Since 2005, I’ve been part of a shared group space called Betalevel. It’s not a collective—it’s more of a venue for social experimentation and hands on culture that we use for readings and other events. Most of our current seven members are grads from the CalArts Writing Program. Many people make lasting friendships in the Program, which is really important, because once you leave, writers need to replace that supportive community. In the decade or so that it takes for something to happen—it took 10 years to get my book published—only writers are going to be there for each other. The world has its own preoccupations and we can’t live in a vacuum. We need responses to our work.

Liz Glynn
Liz Glynn Art MFA 08

I came out of my undergrad at Harvard knowing that, if nothing else, I could stay in the studio all night, work myself into a corner, and throw myself at building something. What was great about CalArts is that it broke all those habits and proved to me that it wasn’t just the labor that was going to fix the work. It opened me up to different ways of looking at the ideas behind the work, and how to address those before making anything. At CalArts I realized that I was more interested in the process of production. My work is research-driven. I’m not wedded to the idea of stylistic consistency, but there’s an underlying idea that human action matters and can shape the physical world, and by extension, metaphorically, the political and social reality that we inhabit.

I got so much out of being at CalArts and learning many different logics of critique, and the process of deconstructing a work and figuring out how to put it back together. I don’t think most other institutions would ever dare go that deep. To have that as a professional artist, later on, is incredibly important because there’s so much that’s pushing you in the direction of maintaining consistency. But the only way to make progress is to have these moments of destruction and teardown.

Many of the artists I now teach with as colleagues are CalArts alumni. At any given museum opening, I’m surrounded by them. It’s an honor to be part of that legacy of artists, and it’s also one group of alumni that maintains a critical conversation long after graduating. I think that’s really important.

Catherine Rockhold
Catherine Rockhold BFA 14 Graphic Designer for Sotheby’s

I started working with photography when I was 12 or 13. I used photography and Photoshop as a way to create scenes and stories with found images, working with landscapes, animals, and beautiful colors. After visiting CalArts, it was initially the community that attracted me. I majored in photography, which is my medium of choice; though I still had the option of taking classes in other programs. I loved having the ability to expand my artistic knowledge–I take classes in film, both in production and history, animation, and graphic design. I am also a math and science minor, so I also take a lot of those classes in the School of Critical Studies. They proved extremely useful in my picture- making process because my art includes aspects of structure, research, and science.

When I came to CalArts, I had little or no confidence in my work. My photographs were based only on aesthetics; they didn’t have any concrete ideas behind them or any deeper meaning. CalArts taught me that it’s not important to make pretty pictures to be published in magazines; rather, it’s important to have a concept and to build a relationship with a piece of art. Now every photograph I take has a purpose. The last two years at CalArts I’ve worked on what would become my thesis–a documentation of my younger brother and his peers as they attend the Naval Academy. I researched the Academy by taking photographs, reading about the school, and interviewing people. I made portraits of many of the midshipmen, which I hope are raw, honest and truthful representations of who they are. The portraits, coupled with text that the Midshipmen wrote themselves, allowed the audience to grasp a deeper understanding about the experience of attending the Naval Academy.

Hilary Greenbaum
Hilary Greenbaum Graphic Design MFA 06 Design Director, Whitney Museum of Art, New York
Three years after finishing my BFA at Carnegie Mellon I decided to change the trajectory of my career. I wanted to do different types of work and learn to incorporate a personal voice into what I was making. When I looked into the MFA Graphic Design Program at CalArts, I felt inspired by the work of the faculty—all of whom became my mentors. There’s a definite rigor to the Program—a level of excellence that is insisted upon. Faculty are relentless in their pursuit to get students to excel, and to do work they didn’t think possible. They’re hard on you, in the best way. I think that process of examining my own work, critically, as well as the work of the team I have here at The Whitney, is one that I use every day, and contributes to the success of everything we do.