The CalArts Pool Fisheye Snapshot

Lisa Stevens (Art 83)

Lisa Stevens (Art 83) reminisces, “I arrived at CalArts in 1979 to do a BA in Art & Design. I had just turned 20. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I knew about CalArts from the moment it broke ground in Valencia. It was always in the back of my mind. But then I left home in 1976, five months before I turned 17. I hitchhiked up and down the coast of California, ending up in Big Sur where I stayed for three years. I couldn’t have found myself in a better community to prepare me for the life of the mind that CalArts teaches you how to navigate. I applied with a written essay and some drawings, posters I had designed and drawn for local bands, and some menus and matchbook covers for local Big Sur restaurants. I had even drawn a map of Big Sur that the local walking tour guide company handed out to tourists. CalArts was the only place I applied to and, to my happy surprise, I was accepted. They gave me a scholarship, financial aid, and a work study contract. Only problem was I didn’t have a high school diploma. To remedy that, I took night courses at the local high school to get my GED. I spent my first two years there blissfully happy and hungry for knowledge. I spent day and night in the large shared studio space off the Main Gallery, working out ideas and creating multiple solutions to the problems Lou Danziger would assign us. One day the assignment was to illustrate the word ‘drought.’ I was up all night working on other assignments and realized at about 3 a.m. that my drought assignment was due in a few hours. I ran back to the dorm, got a drinking glass, ran over to the wood shop and found some sand, filled the glass with sand. I perched the glass full of sand on my desk, on top of the 5-by-7-inch piece of paper we’d been assigned to draw on. I overslept and missed the critique of this assignment, but Lou Danziger was thrilled with my solution to the problem and suddenly saw me as more than a shapely blonde. This was the early ‘80s and female stereotypes were well entrenched. By my third year, I wasn’t sure if I was cut out to be a graphic designer. My mentor Doug Huebler reassured me that once I leave CalArts I can do anything, go in any direction I like. CalArts was teaching me how to think. It was not a vocational school. And he was right. I moved to NY in 1983 and worked in the advertising industry making TV and print ads until 1996, when I was recruited to be the creative director of an agency in Paris. In 1998 I gave it all up to do an MA in documentary filmmaking. I moved to London and went to Goldsmiths University. And I have never looked back. CalArts prepared me for this life and how to think and bring truth to storytelling. Here’s my IMDB link. I turned 61 this past summer. The pandemic has changed filmmaking drastically. I’m still making docs, but I’m also thinking I might like to take up welding and make large sculptures. That might be a nice way to spend the next 20 years. And why not? If you’re a CalArtian, you can do anything.”