Class of 2016 Displays an Enterprising Bent



Freshly minted bachelor of fine arts graduate Pooja Shah now hopes to join the ranks of heart-driven entrepreneurs with an idea that might improve the lives of the visually impaired.

Inspired by her brother Poris, who is legally blind, she invented a “smart cane” to help the sight restricted navigate with a vibrating handle that identifies obstacles through echo-location and sonar.

Designing the cane was a senior thesis project for the 21-year-old design and digital media major, who had transferred from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Bradford James Smith celebrates receiving his graduate degree in painting and drawing.
Bradford James Smith celebrates receiving his graduate degree in painting and drawing. Photo by Carol Covarrubias.

Shah is one of 116 undergrads who received their diplomas this past Monday, May 23, at Laguna College of Art and Design’s commencement. With four master’s of fine art grads and three post baccalaureate grads bringing the total to 123, it is the largest graduating class in LCAD’s history and a 40 percent increase over last year. Then, 78 undergrads and 10 grad students received degrees.

“Stay courageous and stay in touch,” said LCAD president Jonathan Burke, acknowledging the students long hours working on studio projects and excitement to apply their learning. “You are ambassadors and advocates for art,” he said.

Commencement speaker Elizabeth Turk homed in on success as a vital component of life as an artist.

“Success as an artist is capricious; too much money, too much glamor implies selling out. Too little and nothing is created, nothing communicated,” said the award-winning sculptor who divides her time between her home in Newport Beach, a production studio in Santa Ana, and commitments to New York galleries. She received a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2010, and her work can be found in several museum collections and countless private ones.

Commencement speaker and sculptor Elizabeth Turk.

“The reality of success for us creative types changes,” she said. “It’s chasing the high of a great idea, that obsession regardless of outcome. It’s having time to feel the exuberance of losing your conscious self in making something new. It’s the feeling of magic when everything comes together and seems to work.”

Turk creates marble sculptures that seem to defy the limitations of solid material and typical subject matter. For example, she replicates lace collars in stone with tools as fine as a dentist’s drill.

The growing size of the graduating class also reflects a shift in the popularity of some disciplines at the private college. While in 2015, 20 students majored in traditional art forms, just 15 did this year. Game art leads with 29 majors, compared to 16 the year before. The second most popular discipline, animation, drew 23 majors compared to eight with the specialty in 2015. Design and digital media with varying specialties drew 11 majors.

Despite the trends, student speaker Sigmundur Thorgeirsson, 30, revealed that after losing a boring tech job, he began studying drawing and painting in Reykjavik, Iceland. After more than two years of study there, he moved to Laguna Beach and graduated with a bachelor of arts in illustration with an entertainment emphasis.

“At first I was battling culture shock, intense heat and feeling ancient. After two and a half years, I leave with fulfilled dreams and a larger beard,” said Thorgeirsson, bound for Canada to join his fiancée and forge a career in the animation industry.

Observation suggests a slight generation gap among the graduate students, none older than 35 and all of them majoring in painting or drawing. One of them, Trevor Christiansen, 32, has already secured a booth at this year’s Festival of Arts and will also be a resident artist at LCAD during the summer.

Jonathan Burke, president of Laguna College of Art and Design, sends off the class of 2016.
Jonathan Burke, president of Laguna College of Art and Design, sends off the class of 2016.

In digital art forms, LCAD women are on par with their male counterparts. Alyx Tortorice, 23, a surfer who majored in design and digital media with an emphasis on action sports, designed and produced women’s wetsuits with removable arm and leg sleeves. Her Starfysh Wetsuits can be found online, at The Soul Project in Laguna Beach and at Flying Point Surf Shop in New York. “My ambition is to devote myself to Starfysh full-time,” she said.

Another already on a career path is Rachel Newman, 27, a design and digital media major, who created an electronic installation depicting undersea creatures that is displayed in airports. She said she was offered a three-year contract.

In citing the creativity and inventiveness evident in student projects — such as a pain-reducing textile and childhood embarrassments retold as animated narratives of courage and bravery – Turk predicted, “such examples of thoughtful perspectives will expand our culture’s larger vision for itself.”


The name of Poojah Shah’s brother Paras was misspelled in the article, “Class of 2016 Displays Enterprising Bent” in the May 27 edition.


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