47… a Dennis Morimoto Invitational
Celebrating the Career of a UNC Alumnus and Faculty Member
If you talk to anyone who has been through UNC’s School of Art & Design in the past four or so decades, the name of Director Dennis Morimoto is bound to come up. Since receiving both his BA and MA from UNC in Industrial Education, he’s been serving our institution in a variety of capacities for the past 47 years. In that time, he’s made an indelible impact on the professional and personal lives of countless students.
If you talk to Dennis Morimoto himself, you’ll begin to notice that he rarely ever uses the word “I”. Instead, you’ll hear about all of the cutting edge equipment and facilities “we’ve” made available to students, the accomplishments of other faculty members, and the School of Art and Design’s recent national accreditation. “It’s like a big family here,” said Morimoto. “We believe in our students and it’s a very strong program. Not only are we at the strongest point that we have ever been as a school of art, the whole College of the Performing and Visual Arts is possibly at the best point that it has ever been in the history of the university.” With all of his enthusiasm and forward thinking, you’d hardly guess that this is a man on the verge of retirement.
Fortunately, the University of Northern Colorado Galleries have taken the lead in organizing an event to honor Dr. Morimoto’s many years of service. “47… a Dennis Morimoto Invitational” is an exhibition of photography opening on June 7th in Guggenheim Hall’s Mariani Gallery. Apropos of an educator whose career has been so communally oriented, the show will feature the work of 15 photographers who studied under Dr. Morimoto alongside a selection of his own pieces. This free and open reception is sure to be a fantastic occasion for alumni to gather, reflect, and enjoy one another’s company. More details are available here.
It’s difficult even to begin to comprehend the cumulative impact of 47 years, let alone encapsulate it in a single occasion. However, as we spoke to Dr. Morimoto and several of his former students, that idea of family he referred to kept coming back up. Susan Nelson, who now serves as the Director of Marketing and Community Relations for the College of Performing & Visual Arts, tried to sum up the familial mixture of structure and support she’s felt working as Dr. Morimoto’s student and colleague over the years. “It’s because he cares. That sounds really trite, I know, but there’s some kind of hard to pin down quality about his approach to the work and to people that just makes it really obvious that he cares. He cares from the point of view that you darn well better get it right, but he’ll also do anything he can to help you get there.”
The educational philosophy expressed by Dr. Morimoto himself supports this notion that the practice of working successfully as an artist involves much more than just producing a polished portfolio of work. Development as an artist also means growing into a well-rounded, driven individual. “Studying here is not just about making art, producing a quality product. It’s about learning how to be a professional as well. We are producing professional artists.”
One of those professional artists is Stephanie Burchett, Marketing Specialist for the Graduate School and International Admissions at UNC. She says that the reason she kept coming back to study with Dr. Morimoto was that he provided the strong grounding in fundamental artistic skills which enable her to experiment thoughtfully. “I love photography, working in the dark room, mixing the chemicals, getting different results. It’s kind of magical. He helped me to understand and appreciate that magic.”
“Students are our best product,” said Dr. Morimoto near the end of our interview. Ultimately, whether or not he takes personal credit for all of the opportunities and guidance those students attribute to him is almost beside the point. The fact that the people who studied under him can fill an entire gallery with their professional work is an accomplishment that speaks for itself.
If you’d like more information on Dennis Morimoto’s retirement, check out this article on page 4 of the new edition of Northern Vision Magazine. For those who are curious to see more work by the artists participating in the Dennis Morimoto Invitational, here is a list of links to some of their online portfolios:
Do you have fond memories from UNC’s School of Art & Design or from classes you took with Dr. Morimoto? Share them with us in the comments section!