Alumni of the School of Art
Leeya Rose Jackson, Class of 2013
Art Director, Podcast Host, Artist, Event Speaker, Writer, Apparel Designer for a Cause, and So Much More
"BLACK. FEMALE. QUEER. ARTIST. ADWOMAN. IWU ALUMNI | A MEMOIR"
At IWU, I double concentrated in painting and printmaking, dabbled in astronomy and creative writing, danced backup for Drag Balls, and gave away free drinks at the coffee shop (allegedly). As a black girl from Detroit, I spent a lot of freshman year trying to hold onto Leeya from 7 Mile, almost as much time as I spent trying to blend. In hindsight now, I’ve realized that most of my class was doing this same time of self-identity work.
I was safe to have one of the weirdest transcripts possible due to my insatiable curiosity about and for everything. IWU taught me to not be afraid of wandering and pivoting. If you are equipped with the right foundation and knowledge, you honestly can BS your way through anything. I was right to worry that I’d hate my first job, as an art administrator in Massachusetts in a creative placemaking nonprofit. It felt incomplete, like only a piece in my journey. I definitely truly love fine art, but I didn’t want to be in a monogamous relationship with it. I wanted to be making work that was accessible and understandable for the masses. So, I pivoted. To Advertising.
IWU had certainly prepared me for the world of advertising. It seemingly requires knowledge and insight for everything about everything. It is sheer creativity and scientific at the same. I was armed with resourcefulness and printmaking know-how and helped tick up those diversity numbers. I attended Miami Ad School (which honestly was not nearly as legitimate as IWU, which my advisor had wisely warned) and within a year that school abruptly closed its doors. But I’m a real one from the D, so I bounced back and continued to get a portfolio education through the medium of internships for a year and eventually landed as an Art Director at my dream agency, Fallon. I began working on H&R Block social, made commercials for the brand that Has The Meats, and began designing for pro bono clients like the National 2020 Women’s Vote Commemoration and the Northside Achievement Zone.
I and two other Minneapolis-based black Adwomen started the Borrowed Interest Podcast, as a safe audible space for POCs in advertising to have tough and hilarious conversations about navigating this industry. We’ve received tons of inspiring feedback, been featured in numerous publications including Adweek, and have won some dope awards. I’ve also used my printmaking and design skills to brand meaningful businesses like The LashBar, a black-owned beauty shop in North Mpls and The Coven, a female-identifying co-working space.
All of this has led to speaking for various panels and events on the importance of equity and inclusion, speaking on the Mpls Time’s Up Panel, writing long-winded pieces like this one and being awarded as a 32 Under 32: The New Originals winner. I’m very honored and proud and slightly confused and excited and tired, because I know I have so much more to do and only a finite amount of energy to do it.
I’ve realized that my career doesn’t have to be a black and white one; it won’t follow the normal course of the past, and I’m going to have to dictate what being a black, female creative means to me. For now, it means maintaining being a podcast host, a mentor, a Fallon Art Director, and as of June 2018, also becoming the Lead Art Director and Designer of MY SISTER apparel, a streetwear brand aimed at ending sexual exploitation and champions women’s empowerment. My only regret is that I can’t go back to that frizzy-haired girl in cap and gown, in 2013, and tell her what I know now, so that she truly could hit that stage with the confidence of knowing that IWU had given her the education and skills, both in and outside the classroom, to really shape whatever kind of future career she wants.
@leeyamakesnoise on Instagram or visit leeyaroseart.com
Justin Ahrens '94
Justin Ahrens is the founder and principal of Rule29, a strategic design firm in Geneva, Ill., that specializes in branding, social media and “making creative matter” through print, online, environmental, documentary and motion design. Clients range from non-profits to Fortune 500 companies.
Ahrens' passion for his profession is evidenced by his extensive involvement in organizations that support the design community. He regularly speaks around the country and is a member of the STA and AIGA, has held a position on the AIGA Arizona and Chicago board, and served on the HOW Conference Advisory Board.
Over his career, Ahrens has created award-winning work for several organizations and has been recognized in several magazines and books including Communication Arts, HOW, PRINT, Create, Rockport Publishers and STEP. Graphic Design USA picked him as one of the top designers to watch in 2004.
Ahrens has served as an advisor and research assistant for senior design and strategy classes at The University of Notre Dame and Kent State University on projects that address social problems.
Taking a recent “Design for Good" project into action, Ahrens and his team rode 1,000 miles – from Boston to their hometown of Chicago – for “Wheels 4 Water.”
Jeff Curto '81
Jeff Curto '81 is coordinator and professor of photography at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., where he has taught since 1984. Courses frequently taught include "Creative Process," History of Photography," "Digital Imaging and Photographic Composition." Prior to employment at College of DuPage, Curto worked extensively as a freelance photographer, specializing in event and public relations photography, architectural interiors and exteriors, portrait and product photography. Curto was awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree from Bennington College in Vermont in 1983. Additionally, he attended Ansel Adams' last workshop in Carmel, Calif. in 1983.
Since 1989, Curto's primary photographic subjects have been found in Italy, where he travels yearly. While the country's landscape and architectural qualities interest him, it is not the large, expansive view which draws his attention. Rather, he chooses to examine selected fragments of the Italian environment, seen in quiet, intimate glimpses. In this way, luminously peaceful courtyards, sunlight on ageless monuments and the warmth radiating off of grapes ripening on the vine are all given equal importance as subject matter. Jeff exhibits his work periodically in both group and one-person shows. His glowing black and white and color prints are contained in numerous private and corporate collections. Examples of Jeff Curto's work can be found on his Web site at www.jeffcurto.com.
William Matznick '94
William Matznick '94 is a senior art director for Digitas, an interactive marketing agency with offices in Boston, New York, San Francisco, London and Chicago. Bill works in the Chicago office creating Web sites and online advertising, and working with broadcast and print. Digitas is owned by the Publicis Groupe, an advertising holding company which also owns Leo Burnett, Arc Worldwide, Saatchi & Saatchi, Publicis and Fallen. Bill is the creative lead on Miller Brewing and Nokia USA accounts and works on Whirlpool and new business initiatives as well. He has been with Digitas for three years and really enjoys working in the online field. Bill says that staying ahead of the curve and delivering innovative work is challenging.
Bill and his wife Lisa have lived in Phoenix and London and have traveled all over Europe. Bill said that his art history education has paid off as he was able to keep pace with his wife in every museum they visited (she has a master's in Contemporary Art History).
Elizabeth Walker '04
Elizabeth Walker '04 currently lives in New Mexico, where she works for a small art museum and continues to paint. Her work has also been exhibited in Chicago and Los Angeles and can be viewed at www.lizpaints.artspan.com. Her other interests include bees, crafts, making jam, and all things kitsch. Please send her words of encouragement and pies!