MCA News

Alumnus Mathis Ryan: Designing for the City

                                                                               Sample work created by Mathis for City of Memphis

Mathis Ryan graduated from MCA in 2011 with a Bachelors in Design Art with a focus on Sequential Narrative and a Minor in Art History. After graduation, he bounced around a few design jobs from an Impress Associate at Office Max, to a Headstone Designer, to an Illustrator for Brother International. He currently is the Lead Graphic Designer for the City of Memphis in Marketing and Communications. Mathis is engaged to another MCA Alumni, Elizabeth Waylett, and they live about three blocks from where they both graduated with their cat, Bill, and their dog, Saxon.

How did you decide to come to MCA?

I was born in Memphis, and one of the first places I lived was Midtown, on Cox. My Aunt was driving me down Poplar on the way home one day (I couldn’t have been older than six or seven), and, as we passed Overton Park, she told me that’s where artists go to school, and I might go there someday myself. Well, it stuck. When I graduated high school, I joined the Air Force with the goal in mind to register for MCA after a couple of years into my enlistment. It always felt like I was supposed to go there, and it was the most natural thing in the world.

What was your favorite class or project while you were here?

It would have to be one of the comic projects in Sequential Narrative. My classmates and I made webcomics and had our critique done via Skype by Kris Straub and Scott Kurtz. If you don’t know who those guys are, check out Broodhollow and Table Titans. You won’t regret it.

Who was your favorite teacher?

I really couldn’t pick just one. Joel Priddy was like a father figure to all of us comic and illustration guys. We all still refer to composition elements as “kisses” and “horses asses” because of him. Jim Ramsey is one of the most knowledgeable art history professors I could have hoped to meet, and he’s the reason I took enough AH classes to get a minor in it. David Burton made reading fun, and we still compare reading lists and discuss what we’ve read as if I never left his class. Lastly, Drawing Composition with Remy Miller. Nothing like listening to obscure Bob Dylan while having your drawing project that you labored for hours over be karate-chopped apart by a guy that knows a rush job when he sees it. Taught me to take more time on my projects, as folks can always tell.

If you could go back and take something different at MCA, what would it be?

Metals probably. I helped a friend on her projects a couple of times, and something about working with those delicate saws and intricate tools was really fun. Even though I cut myself a bunch.

What would people be surprised to learn about your MCA education?

That I never once took a painting class, and never have I ever fired a kiln. My handwriting has been, and always will be, terrible, and working with construction paper is for all ages.

What drew you to your current job?

They were hiring? (jk, lol)
The cool thing about design is how it elevates things, I wanted to do my part to pretty up the city that I call home. In any case, I see it as the the opportunity to improve my skills, while still having enough bacon in the icebox. Plus, I, like, totally once shared an elevator with the Mayor.

How did MCA prepare you for that position?

The Graphic Design instructors I had at the time were monsters for detail. Everything needed to be measured down to the nearest pica, and god help you if you didn’t use a bone-folder. Plus, I got real good with an exacto-knife.

What do you like to do with your design degree that doesn’t have to do with you work?

I’d like to get back to comics full time, but they ain’t exactly hiring at the doodle plant. Currently, me and a bunch of other Alumni are working on a project that I’m not at liberty to announce just yet. Use context clues to guess at what that might be.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?

Draw and play video games in between housework and seeing friends, and get in fights with strangers on the internet.

What’s your favorite thing about Memphis?

My dog lives here. That, and there’s, like, ten parks within biking distance from my house. Seriously, Memphis is one of the greenest cities in the world, why would I want to live anywhere else?

Olivia Ritter: Be Uncomfortable

Because of a Ferris Scholarship and a Hohenberg Foundation Summer Traveling Fellowship, Design Arts student Olivia Ritter was able to spend her summer in Israel focusing on sustainability and sculpture with Desert Days Eco-village. Olivia went through a formal application process and was chosen by MCA Student Affairs for the Hohenberg award, after which she received the Ferris Summer Internship award. We are thankful to our donors for making trips like this possible. Read about Olivia’s exciting opportunity below!

How did you find out about this internship?

Over the past semester, I had done lots of research on traveling with a limited budget. I found websites like “Go Abroad” and “All Hands Volunteers,” but they all seemed trendy and much too overpriced. After hours of online research, I ended up finding a small organization called GoEco that provided various trips around the world, some cheaper and some more expensive. I ended up finding Desert Days Eco-village, a small up and coming community that allowed volunteers to build infrastructures, sculptures, and re-purpose pre existing structures out of the local materials.

What did you do to make this internship happen?

I sent in letters of recommendation and provided research on personal and external objectives, passions for wanting to visit, and basic proof of a willingness to work hard.

What types of projects did you work on?

The majority of the work included creating the mud mixtures, which were dirt (clay), hay, sand, and water. From this mixture, we built an outdoor sofa set with a table, reformed existing buildings, created the desert days sign, built an ornamental mirror for the homes, created a fully working kitchen, and built various other sculptures.

Were there any surprises on the job that you weren’t expecting?

I know personally, I did not think I would do any long hikes, but ended up solo-hiking from the West coast of Israel to the East coast of Israel in three days. What did I have with me to guide me across the country? A Hebrew map (all I could find), a compass, and a backpack with some food, a hammock, and a pair of socks. I think the most unexpected occurrence was how relaxed and trusting of myself I was to know that I could protect myself if in danger, but appreciate the beauty of my surroundings when I wasn’t. Even at night, I experienced hyenas, wild bores, snakes, etc., but, unlike when I hiked the Appalachian Trail, I realized: how could nature and living in the wilderness be such a fearful and foreign place? Something so natural, yet seemingly uncomfortable, in relation to the bustling city.

What was your favorite thing about living in Israel?

Realizing how different the perception of Israel is in relation to how it’s perceived via U.S. propaganda. I hitchhiked quite a bit in Israel, perhaps ignorantly; however, it’s very common for the people to help one another out if they are on the side of the road or really need assistance in any way. After hitchhiking all day pre-hiking adventure, I was walking through the city, and a man spoke to me and provided me lunch and a nice conversation. He ended up taking me to a place on the beach I could sleep on that would not kick me out for sleeping over night. As skeptical as I generally am, it seemed that throughout the trip, the people provided soulful guidance.

How did the internship affect your career or life plans?

This trip further helped me see the importance of travel as a lifestyle and knowing that wherever you go, there will be an opportunity for you if you look hard enough.

How did MCA prepare you for this internship?

MCA helped me obtain the funding for the trip, and provided excitement for pursuing my goals.

What advice would you have for students who want to pursue a similar internship?

Of all the things to focus on, it is most important to do the uncomfortable. To do the things that are so different from what you do everyday, that it almost seems unrealistic. Once you realize how capable of an individual you are to pursue the unknown, the possibilities in this world are infinite. Actions precede feelings. I can choose to feel afraid anywhere, in my home, on the streets, in the middle of the woods, but if you aren’t living in excitement but instead living with a false sense of security, are you truly living?

What’s your dream job after graduation?

The dream job is one that isn’t a job at all, but instead a way of living. It’s important to realize that humans aren’t meant for a monopathic lifestyle or narrowed-discipline, but a polymathic lifestyle. As a child, we grow up creating and desiring a wide variety of interests, but slowly they become narrowed down to one routine. It’s important to keep this investigative and creative child within all of us as a base for living and to pair it with the discerned and skeptic eye. Eventually, I would like to form an independent schooling system that focuses on integrating the relationship of courses and teaches each student the significance of expertise in various subjects, similar to that of the Renaissance Man and Aristotelian style methods. With lesser knowledge comes greater fear, and if you make the action to pursue your passion while eliminating your inhibitions, you can do anything.


“I am. Amen.”: Activist Artist Hank Willis Thomas is Pryor Lecturer

WHAT: Globally-renowned artist Hank Willis Thomas is giving this year’s Downing Pryor Lecture at the Memphis College of Art. He is a co-founder of the first-ever artist-driven super PAC, For Freedoms, and his work is meant to initiate dialogue about race, politics, and art and is particularly relevant to Memphis in the 50th year after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The lecture, “I am. Amen,” is free and open to the public.

WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 14, 6:00-8:30pm. Reception from 6:00-7:00pm, with lecture and Q&A following.

WHERE: Callicott Auditorium, Rust Hall, Memphis College of Art, 1930 Poplar Ave, 38104

Facebook Event

Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to identity, history, and popular culture. His work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and abroad including, the International Center of Photography and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Thomas’s work is in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the High Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males, In Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth), and For Freedoms, which Thomas co-founded in 2016 as the first-ever artist-run super PAC. For Freedoms was recently awarded the 2017 ICP Infinity Award for New Media and Online Platform. Thomas is also the recipient of the 2017 Soros Equality Fellowship. He received a BFA in Photography and Africana studies from New York University and a MFA/MA in Photography and Visual Criticism from the California College of Arts. He has also received honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute of Art and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. Thomas lives and works in New York City.

                                                                             Image courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery

“This series of paintings (above) was inspired by a 1968 photograph by Ernest Withers of marchers during the Memphis sanitation workers March. Martin Luther King was assassinated while there in support of the March. The men carried signs which read ‘I am a Man’. I found it fascinating that the phrase I grew up with was ‘I am THE Man’. The collective statement became individualistic in the age of integration. Reflecting on American history I wanted to riff and remix the text, ultimately ending with the revelation ‘I Am. Amen.’ MLK showed us that our greatest gift is our consciousness and it is up to us what we choose to do with it.” Hank Willis Thomas, from Artist of the Day

For media inquiries, contact Communications Manager Marilyn Koester by email at or by phone at (901) 272-5113.


President Laura Hine Welcomes the MCA Community Back for Fall

Dear MCA Community,

Welcome back to Memphis College of Art for the fall semester! The solar eclipse occurring on the first day of classes August 21 provides an exciting marker for the start of this academic year.

Our faculty, staff, alumni, and students have been busy this summer with internships, exhibitions, and awards. Also this summer, we received a technology grant from ArtsMemphis to support UX/UI learning. Horn Island 33 had a record number of participants. We begin the first year of the MCA Tuition Guarantee, which freezes tuition at current levels for all students. We are now able to recognize our animation students by showing their work across campus on our digital screens. Our Summer Art Camp had an outstanding year, and Summer Academy for rising high school students returned with great success.

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Warren “Bud” Richey, our new VP of Student Affairs and Dean of Students. Bud most recently held the Associate VP of External Programs position at Rhodes College, where he served in a variety of capacities over the last 14 years and was often referred to as the “Jobfather” for his support of student job searches. Prior to Rhodes, Bud served as the Associate Dean of Students at U of M, and Associate Dean of Students and Director of Orientation at LSU. In 2016, Bud received the cityCURRENT Spark Award for “Leader of the Year” in Education. Bud’s first day at MCA will be August 14.

We are fortunate to be in an institution that values creativity, both in and out of the classroom. I hope that each member of our community has a pleasant and rewarding start to fall, and look forward to seeing each of you around campus.

Laura Hine, President

Disconnect/Reconnect: Horn Island 33

Disconnect/Reconnect: Horn Island 33

Explore. Discover. Create. MCA’s Horn Island is more than a trip. It’s a tradition.

This unique, signature program sets MCA apart from any other college. For more than thirty years, students have followed in the footsteps of American artist Walter Anderson to Horn Island, a remote barrier island off of the coast of Mississippi. Participants leave cell phones, bathrooms, and expectations behind.

It sounds daunting, but, as alumnus Casey Matthews said in a recent Country Roads article, “It’s taking yourself out of the mundane day-to-day activities and placing yourself in this different situation where you’re subject to a higher power—in this case nature. The island is more relevant today than it’s ever been. Because we’re so connected to everything.”

The experience of disconnecting and getting back to nature reflects the unique philosophy of MCA: Challenge leads to creativity and triumph.

Associate Professor and Horn Island Director Don DuMont explains why unplugging is key: “One must disconnect in order to reconnect. That is what the island can provide – the chance to get away, to look inward as well as outward, and to focus on one’s surroundings. That’s when creative transformation takes place.”

Horn Island isn’t a vacation. It’s an artistic journey. This year, over 40 participants made the 11-day excursion, immersing themselves in the isolation and beauty of the island.

Horn Island is open to students (supported by sponsors), alumni, faculty, and staff. Following the trip, participants create works of art inspired by their experience on the island. Those works culminate in a popular and beloved yearly exhibition, celebrated this year as “Horn Island 33” for its thirty-third installment.

Select Horn Island works from previous years are exhibited at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Mississippi through August 22. The exhibition brochure for “The Islanders: Memphis College of Art and Horn Island” has quotes and images from our artists.

Horn Island 33 opens in Rust Hall’s Upper, Lower and Alumni Galleries on August 14 and runs until September 29. The Horn Island 33 Reception, held on Saturday, August 26 from 5:30-8:30pm, features grilled SPAM, an island tradition.The reception is free and open to the public. Artwork will be on sale while the exhibit is on view, and remaining artworks will be listed on from October 9 to October 30. Visit for more details.

Memphis College of Art does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, age, veteran status, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or other status protected by law. Additional Information