Celebrating the Class of 2015

Seven graduates share their postgraduate plans, from starting a jazz-infused trip-hop band in LA to attending Yale University

June 2015—When 130 graduating seniors crossed the stage at the Rosemarie Shellaberger Tennis Center on May 16 to formally accept their degrees, every alum—whether bubbling with excitement or experiencing a tinge of nervousness—knew they were stepping into the next stage of their life. Commencement speaker Charlotte Kate Fox (’08), an actress and alumna who faced her own challenges, can clearly relate.

This year’s graduating seniors come from diverse artistic backgrounds. Here, we profile a few of their stories and exciting postgraduate plans:

Mae Rymer, Studio Arts

“I had a background in drawing and watercolor, but my techniques and aesthetics exploded when I came here,” says Mae Rymer, who is originally from Dallas, Texas. “The teachers opened the doors for me to use and understand different mediums to deliver a message or concept.”

Now Rymer works with all mediums, or as she puts it, she dives into any medium that she feels inspired by or wants to learn about. Right now, her focus is on ceramics and clay. She is intrigued by the idea of natural forms versus human-made forms, their status in industry, and their value in society.

Rymer’s curiosity and sharp artistic eye helped her earn a job offer at SITE Santa Fe, where she started working as an intern through its relationship with SFUAD. She also volunteered for its Youth Development Program, which provides art lessons for local children who may not have had the opportunity to explore the arts. “When I was introduced to the opportunity at SITE, suddenly a lot of doors opened for me,” says Rymer.

Rymer plans to pursue graduate studies, but first wants to gain experience while working at SITE Santa Fe and as a volunteer at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. Holding both jobs allows her to work not only at a contemporary art gallery, but also in a historic art environment, both of which will help her as an artist to prepare for graduate studies.

Julian and Donald Peña, Contemporary Music

With years of experience in music, particularly jazz, brothers Julian and Donald (Donnie) Peña sought the right fit and focus in undergrad, which is why they transferred to SFUAD two years ago. They were referred by a friend, because they wanted to learn more about music production and studio work, composition, film scoring, and producing their own music.

“We come from a background where there was a strict curriculum,” says Donnie, “but the faculty here helped us find our own voice and facilitate our own talents.” “That is what matters to us,” adds Julian, “Here, we were welcomed to figure out what we want to say as musicians and convey our message.”

Active in the local music scene, they were already performing gigs at art galleries and restaurants when they met fellow student Janel Blanco. When Donnie and Julian expressed their interest in electronic music and shared one of their original songs with her, she offered to write the lyrics. Not long after, the trio started the Maya Spectra. Their EP, which was released earlier this year, received positive reviews, including one from Entertainment Weekly.

“The artistic community in Santa Fe helped us create connections, collaborate with different departments, and let us work in different mediums,” says Julian. “We had the chance to work with students from different departments, which included writing music for short films,” adds Donnie, “That’s what we really want to do—work with artists who don’t necessarily work in our medium.”

After graduation, the brothers plan to move to LA, where they will continue to perform their own music and participate in SFUAD’s LA Experience, an internship program that provides hands-on industry experience.

“We have high hopes for the band. Our singer graduates in a year, but we definitely plan to continue,” says Julian, “We want to not only produce our own music, but also provide that chance for other artists.”

Charlotte Martinez, Film and Creative Writing

Born and raised in Santa Fe, Charlotte Martinez has long been familiar with SFUAD. “A lot of my family attended the College of Santa Fe,” says Martinez. “I also realized that when SFUAD opened as an art school, it had both film and creative writing programs, which was perfect for what I wanted to do.”

It took Martinez only one extra year to finish her studies in both degrees, and she has no regrets about staying longer. Pursuing two majors helped her collaborate with students in different programs, something she knows is required in the art industry.

Her experience also expanded her view of the other majors. For example, she never thought she’d be interested in reporting and journalism, but after working with Creative Writing faculty member Julia Goldberg, Martinez realized that it was the path she wanted to pursue most.

“The faculty is an amazing group of people,” says Martinez. “They shared the knowledge I needed to pursue my path. They’re more my mentors than teachers.”

Before heading to graduate school for journalism, Martinez plans to take a year to write about home.

“I want to explore what makes Santa Fe one of the biggest art centers of the world,” she says. “I also want to explore the history and cultural identity of Santa Fe in my art.”

“Being here for five years, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of where the school has been and where it is going,” she continues. “And both are fantastic.”

Luke Montavon, Photography

Luke Montavon studied photography in high school in Columbia, Maryland, where his teachers offered a very conceptual and project-based approach to the medium. He also learned the technical side, which included everything from darkroom processes to developing film. This is where his passion for the medium was born.

“I didn’t understand how much I could do with photography until I met Tony [O’Brien] and was privileged to work with him,” he says of his mentor. “He helped me realize what pictures could do for other people. I want that sort of communication in my work.” In addition to the eye-opening coursework, he built his portfolio by helping to found and contributing to Jackalope Magazine, which gave him experience in photojournalism.

He’s also looked beyond the university to gain experience. He is an active member of Exposures, a cross-cultural arts program for adolescents, where he teaches a photography class. Last summer he participated in a trip with 15 of his students to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, where he also worked on an independent project, a photo essay about the local juvenile detention center.

Following that trip, the Exposures staff asked him to facilitate an online exchange program to teach photography and storytelling to high school students. “One of my photography students, with whom I still regularly meet, won a Robert Redford/Milagro Initiative scholarship,” says Montavon proudly.

He recently completed his BFA thesis show, which focused on the phenomenon of mass abandonment in Juarez, Mexico. He also plans to complete a book to feature this work.

Although Montavon completed internships at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Garson Studios, and the Santa Fe New Mexican, where he now also works as a freelancer, he has more ambitious postgraduate plans, which range from working for the Houston Chronicle to completing photojournalism projects in Lebanon.

“I’m very glad that I decided to go to school here,” he says. “Sometimes things have been difficult, but in the end, it’s all worth it. Without the people I met here, I wouldn’t feel as good about graduating.”

Tamah Bartlett, Digital Arts

Tamah Bartlett found everything she wanted in an undergraduate program at SFUAD: It has a small campus and intimate atmosphere, isn’t too far from home (Tucson), and caters to her passion for animated movies and graphics by allowing her to major in Digital Arts. She’s one of the first—and proud—alumni of the Digital Arts Program.

“The program has been fun and challenging,” she says, “I’ve been a part of the changes my department has gone through, because it’s so new. I think we even helped shape it as new students came in and I’m very happy about that.”

Bartlett is also one of the Lead Student Ambassadors at the university, through which she gives campus tours to prospective students and helps them figure out if SFUAD is the right choice for them. “I think the students who come here as freshmen show a lot of potential in their art forms,” says Bartlett. “As long as they keep their minds open to other art forms and collaboration, I’m confident they’re all going to go far.”

Bartlett’s aim is to land a position at an animation company, but her long-term goal is to launch her own animation company. “Working with people from different departments on campus enabled me to have contacts with artists in different forms,” says Bartlett. “That’s helpful, because the industry is all about networking.”

Curtis Williams, Performing Arts

Unlike many students, Curtis Williams didn’t have the chance to attend theater classes until high school, when he joined an experimental theater program that his father’s friends directed. That experience sparked his passion for acting, but it wasn’t until he attended the University of New Orleans and walked past a room where the theater program held auditions that he found his calling. He walked in, auditioned, and received call-backs for all three roles.

And those roles led to even better opportunities: Williams toured for a play he was cast in, which was how faculty at SFUAD learned about him and helped him transfer to the performing arts program. “The faculty as a whole influenced me,” says Williams. “But three teachers in particular helped me open my creative self. Shepard Sobel helped me look at plays analytically, Gail Springer helped me with my voice technically, and Jon Jory—he’s just amazing.”

He attributes a great amount of his success as an artist to SFUAD and the city itself. “Santa Fe is the complete opposite of what I’m used to in New Orleans,” says Williams, “It’s a quiet community of artists. It’s diverse and culturally rich. Everybody is friendly, so you feel free to express yourself in any art form. In a small, quiet town, it’s easy for you to figure out who you are as a person.”

Before crossing the stage, he seriously focused on graduate school. He auditioned in San Francisco, ultimately receiving several callbacks from schools as competitive as Juilliard. Next year, Williams will pursue his studies in performing arts at Yale University.

Even though he enjoyed the competition, he understands why some students might find auditioning stressful. “When you get into these rooms, you compare yourself to others,” says Williams. “A lot of them go to top-notch schools, they’re older, have done projects outside of school. But you have to be confident. We have great teachers. We’re just as talented, maybe even more.” —Nayereh Doosti