The Visual Arts Department: Inspiring Creative Community

By Professor Milbert Mariano, Chair Milbert Mariano
Visual Arts Department

During the holiday season, my home has a wall dedicated to Christmas cards my family has received from our family and friends. Over the years, the wall has begun to showcase an increasing number of cards from my former students. I love glancing at these cards and thinking of each of these students and the contribution they made in the Visual Arts program at PUC.

The best reward of being an educator for the past two decades is keeping in touch with my students and seeing where their studies in Visual Arts has taken them.  It’s been exciting to see our alumni of designers, photographers, fine artists, and filmmakers are making quite a name for themselves.

PUC’s Visual Arts students have gone on to work with many prestigious companies. Places like Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, Apple, Netflix, Lucasfilm, Airbnb, Tapiture, and Martha Stewart Living. We have many alumni working for large ministries, such as 3ABN, Amazing Facts, and Maranatha Volunteers International, and even some grads—including myself—work at Pacific Union College, our alma mater.

Students at last year's annual Diogenes Film Festival.

Students at last year’s annual Diogenes Film Festival.

But success isn’t defined just by working for a company with name recognition. We have alumni working for smaller companies, doing what they love—creating and being creative. We also have many graduates who have started their own businesses. One alumnus is a documentary filmmaker, one has his own design studio, and another is a successful sculpture artist. Some have even branched out to other industries—but still incorporating design. Recently, one of our graduates started an organic cosmetics line from her home in St. Helena, just a few miles from PUC. She makes the products from scratch and uses her graphic design skills to create the packaging and her photography skills photographing her products. Her products are gaining popularity in boutique shops around the Napa Valley and beyond! (Editor’s note: You can learn more about Jassy and her business by reading her alumni profile on our blog.)

These success stories from our graduates inspire me as I work with our current students. As a department, we are continually looking for ways we can open new windows of opportunity for our majors. With quarterly trips to museums in the San Francisco Bay Area, tours of companies such as YouTube and Pinterest, field trips to historic design spots such as the Eames Ranch and M&H Type, and quarterly pre-vespers gatherings in faculty homes, our students have abundant and amazing opportunities which enrich their day-to-day, active learning.

PUC Visual Arts students at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento.

PUC Visual Arts students at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento.

This winter quarter alone, we’ll be busy with a trip to Alcatraz Island to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit, a weekend retreat for our department at PUC’s Albion Retreat and Learning Center on California’s Mendocino coast, and travels to Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. PUC students and faculty are continually being exposed to unique learning opportunities in and out of the classroom, which create great memories and Instagram posts. These students are coming back to their classes and labs and are creating works that are inspired and informed.

Best of all, these events are all couched within the Christian experience. We examine, consider, and make art from a Christian perspective and an understanding that beauty and creativity are inspired, and bestowed upon us, by our Creator God.

Of course, career progress isn’t the only reason why I love keeping in touch with my students. While it’s interesting to hear about alumni work, my first priority is to know how they are doing in life. After all, the advantage of a small, liberal arts college is the luxury of getting to know your students beyond their classwork. Oftentimes, by the time the student has graduated, we’ve gotten to know them so well that we can sincerely call them a friend.

Visual Arts professors Cliff Rusch and Milbert Mariano with new PUC alumni.

Visual Arts professors Cliff Rusch and Milbert Mariano with new PUC alumni.

One of my favorite memories as teacher was having a graduate ask for my help in proposing to his longtime girlfriend, who was also an alumna of the department. I remember the day they met in my class; even I noticed there was something special brewing between the two talented students. Years later, he stood in my living room, telling my wife and me of his plans to propose. Days later, I had the honor of accompanying the young man to pick up the engagement ring and setting up the proposal site: the very classroom where I taught these two students and where they first met.

We emptied the room of desks and decorated it with Christmas lights. We set a table with china, flowers, candles, and a cake in the center of the room.

This summer, my wife and I will be attending their wedding.

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