MCA Announces Gere Kavanaugh as Commencement Speaker

Contact: Natalie Fleenor
Communications Coordinator (901) 272-5113

May 1, 2017



Memphis College of Art Announces Gere Kavanaugh as Commencement Speaker

Groundbreaking Memphian returning to hometown, alma mater to address graduating students

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis College of Art (MCA) today announced that internationally renowned interdisciplinary designer Gere Kavanaugh will be the college’s commencement speaker for this year’s graduation ceremony Sunday, May 14, the South lawn of MCA’s Rust Hall, 1930 Poplar Ave., Overton Park. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Memphis Academy of Arts (now MCA) in 1951, and her address will focus on her Southern heritage and how it has influenced her throughout her life as a designer. Kavanaugh also delivered the college’s commencement address in 1971.

“I’m excited to return to the city and school which gave me a foundation in art and design,” said Kavanaugh. “The skills I learned in Memphis equipped me to launch my career as an artist.”

Born and raised in Memphis, Kavanaugh’s 60-year career has extensively influenced the design industry, particularly the fields of textiles, furniture, interior design, exhibitions, ceramics and graphics. Many of her groundbreaking designs—characterized by bold color, sharp lines and rich textures—are now commonplace, such as the square-shaped patio umbrella. She is a recipient of numerous international awards, including the Ladislav Sutnar Prize from the University of West Bohemia in the Czech Republic, the 2016 American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA) Medal and the Julia Morgan Icon Award from the Los Angeles Design Festival.

Kavanaugh took her first art class at the age of eight and years later received a scholarship to attend the Memphis Academy of Arts (now MCA) for undergraduate study. She attended graduate school at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree—the fifth woman in the school’s history to do so. She then began working for GM in Detroit, and was among the first group of women hired as professional designers by a U.S. corporation.

In 1964, she founded her own firm in Los Angeles, Gere Kavanaugh Designs, which she still operates to this day. She’s worked with numerous revolutionary artists including Frank Gehry, Victor Gruen, Greg Walsh, Don Chadwick and Deborah Sussman. Kavanaugh’s work can be found in galleries, landmarks and books across the world. One of her most notable projects was designing the research room and typeface for the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California; she’s also developed projects for corporate clients including Pepsi, Neutrogena and Warner Brothers.

MCA graduation is not open to the public, but any media interested in attending can RSVP to

Photo: Courtesy of Gere Kavanaugh

Memphis College of Art provides a rigorous curriculum in an intimate, diverse community to empower generations of leading artists, designers and educators to flourish professionally and contribute valuable ideas to society. MCA is fully accredited with expert, nationally renowned faculty and grants BFA, MFA, MA in Art Education and MA in Teaching degrees with graduates excelling in various careers across the country and internationally. For more information, visit Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter at @memphisart.

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