I studied graphic design at CalArts in the mid-2000s. Like most students, I was vaguely aware of the history that came before me. Rumors had it that Gail, Louise, Michael, and Shelley were students at CalArts in the 90s. Lorraine and Keedy and Ed arrived sometime in the 80s. But I didn’t know specifics. I didn’t know who was classmates with whom—or who had taught whom.
I’m interested in such things. I love origin myths and have a nostalgic fascination with institutional history. I wanted to have access to a big list of names that would expose who was studying and teaching design at CalArts going back in time. I wanted an almanac. But it didn’t exist.
Enter the CalArts Design Almanac
My first instinct was to employ Wikipedia. A few years ago, I created a page called “Complete list of CalArts graphic design alumni” and added the names of a few graduating classes, hoping that others would expand the list. Sadly, the page was taken down after only a few minutes. It turns out, there are strict rules for Wikipedia.
So I decided to build my own website instead. And I’m happy to have just launched it: calartsdesignalmanac.net
At its heart, it’s a pretty simple site. There are lots of names, neatly organized by year and grade level. Faculty is listed as well. The fun starts when searching for specific names and comparing how their time at CalArts did or didn’t overlap.
Here are a few examples:
Now, where to find all the data…
The most challenging aspect was gathering and verifying the actual data. For the more recent history, I was able to employ my own recollections. (I arrived at CalArts in 2003 and have never really left the place, starting to teach soon after graduating.) Archived versions of design.calarts.edu, which has been listing current students since 2006, were very helpful. Going back further proved more difficult. I thought that the CalArts registrar might be able to open their data vault and hand me a big pile of names and dates, but they politely declined because of privacy concerns. I suppose that was responsible. So I decided to crowd-source the information instead. I contacted alumni from each year and asked for their help. In addition, Shelley Stepp and Caryn Aono provided valuable information from their archives. Many thanks to everybody who was so kind to lend their time to this project.
Is the current list comprehensive? Not yet. But it’s a pretty good start, listing over 700 students and faculty going back to 1985, the year Lorraine started at CalArts. Is the list accurate? My sense is that it’s pretty solid going back to 2000. It becomes a little more speculative from there. The MFAs are more complete than the BFAs. The faculty still needs a lot of verification.
You can help!
Did you study at design at CalArts? Did you teach in the design department? Let me know, and I will update your information. Email any additions or corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rules for inclusion
I am mostly interested in uncovering who was at CalArts at the same time. So I included someone for a specific year if they spent any time in the graphic design department during the spring or fall semester of that academic year. Being listed in the almanac (even as a BFA4 or MFA2) does not mean that someone actually received a diploma. Though most students did, of course.
I started working on early prototypes for this project in the beginning of 2015. My main concerns were deciding what information to include and finding interesting ways of comparing names.
My early designs were critiqued by my pals in Design Friends Club. My business partner, Nicole Jaffe, also lent valuable insight about the functionality and visual design. Coding started in September 2015 and a beta version launched in March 2016. Thanks to my students who beta tested the site and provided helpful feedback.
I’m thinking of ways to expand and improve the functionality of the site. Maybe add more information for each person. (Where do they live? Where have they worked and taught? What’s their website address?) Any features you’d like to see? Let me know.
But most importantly, I want to finish adding all students and faculty—there are a few years still missing from the 80s and 90s—so the almanac lives up to its name and becomes a trusted, valuable resource for our community.
Roman Jaster graduated from CalArts in 2007 where he teaches Advanced Web Design classes today. He is also the co-founder of the design studio Yay Brigade.