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What did you do with your art history degree?

Submitted on December 5, 2016 - 3:50pm
David Mendoza and Anne Focke in conversation
David Mendoza and Anne Focke in conversation; photo by Nadia Ahmed

Anne Focke, the School’s first Alum in Residence, invited fellow alum David Mendoza to join her in a conversation about their lengthy and ongoing careers. It took place on November 21, 2016, in the Jacob Lawrence Gallery as one of the Utopia Neighborhood Club events.

Both received their undergraduate art history degrees in 1967 when that major was in its infancy. While neither pursued graduate degrees, and they do not consider themselves art historians, Focke and Mendoza have made significant contributions to the art world.

Prior to the event, Focke summarized Mendoza’s career:

David has been director of the Foster/White Gallery, executive assistant to the chair of the New York State Council on the Arts, the first director of Artist Trust, the first executive director of the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, and a long-time board member of Art Matters, a foundation that helps artists who “break ground aesthetically and socially.” Since 1998, he has created and manages a workshop on Bali (his home today) with a focus on natural dyes, handmade batik, preserving traditional craft techniques in Southeast Asia, and designing and producing a line of products including men & women’s clothing and goods for the home.

While impressive, this does not fully convey the fascinating history of 1967 to 1998 that Mendoza shared with attendees that night. Stories included an accidental encounter in southern France with author Alex Haley and resulting short-term work with him; learning by doing as a new gallery manager in Seattle; working with and learning from Kitty Carlisle Hart at the New York State Council on the Arts; being an activist during the early AIDS epidemic; returning to Seattle to help found Artist Trust with Focke and others and then serving as its founding director; and moving to Washington, DC, to become a champion of artistic freedom (including debates with Senator Jesse Helms).

Focke hopes to work with Mendoza to publish the story he told that night.

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