I went to College of Visual Arts (CVA) as a kid right out of high school. I choose it because of the small campus size and the fine arts focused BFA degree. I wasn’t sure what on earth I wanted to do with an “art” degree, but I knew I loved making things. And I liked that CVA wasn’t the slickest or fanciest campus. It seemed like a place for focused art exploration with an amazing faculty. I enrolled with my mother still skeptical. ( I think she was just nervous about sending her son off to do nude figure drawing. ) I embarked on a four year arts journey that taught me fancy words like chiaroscuro and gestalt. I learned about everyone from Hieronymus Bosch to Paul Rand. I even did my nerdy typography-based senior thesis on a fellow named William Dwiggins who designed typefaces for letterpress printing. I graduated with a BFA in Communication Design and a passion for visual culture.
I struggled during my schooling choosing between a design major and a sculpture major. I ultimately chose a design major because I wanted to eat. But after graduating CVA in 1998, I quickly found in my first design job a very different experience than the one I had as a CVA student. Most of my work day was locked into the glowing screens of design, not making stuff with my hands. And most of the stuff I did make, ended up in trash cans of clients. I sought change. I wanted to make stuff that people would love and keep. I wanted some outlet for craft that related back to my college experience. So, in the fall of 1999, my and evenings and weekend were spent beginning a letterpress printing space in my home basement. I called it Studio On Fire, named for the Typographer Frederick Goudy who twice lost his lifes work to studio blazes. Fast forward 14 years – the company Studio On Fire is a best-in-class letterpress shop with a dozen employees and clients all over the world. Gestalten even published a recent book of projects that were printed in our studio.
Learning at CVA was one of those amazing life experiences that was so formative to my valuation and passion for craft and design. As Studio On Fire grows as a business, this is what we value. Craft. Design. It was that simple framework of learning that provided a chance for me to focus my passions and ultimately build a unique business that reflects the things I love.
The sudden announcement in January of CVA’s closure was a bombshell. In addition to running Studio On Fire, I’m now busy as President of a group called CVA Action making the case to our creative community that CVA deserves a chance to stay open. Yes, it is going to take some big changes. It is going to require vision beyond what the current Administration and Board of Trustees could offer. This change is big and we have an amazing team of people stepping in to surround this effort. I believe those changes can be made and I am stepping up to play my part. This is vital to the Saint Paul community, vital to Minnesota, and vital to creativity. But we need your help.
I’m going to the mat and asking you to consider a gift of money to this vital part of our creative community. If you love what we do at Studio On Fire, you already recognize the value a creative education brings to business. I am hoping you care enough about this cause to contribute.
For more details about our fundraising campaign, visit our website CVA Action. Time is of the essence. This is our last, best hope to save our beloved school and make the needed changes so we can put CVA back on the path to a successful and sustainable future. Please make a donation in any amount today.
You can make this happen, and we are so grateful for your support.
Ben Levitz, Principal, Studio On Fire