Get to Know Michelle Carpenter
Visual Arts Chair Michelle Carpenter is a dedicated educator and award-winning filmmaker.Megan Briggs | College of Arts & Media Jan 13, 2022
As chair of the Visual Arts department in the College of Arts & Media (CAM), Michelle Carpenter is a dedicated educator. Originally from the Detroit, Michigan area, Carpenter wanted to move to California to pursue a career in music. She stopped in Boulder to visit friends on the way and fell in love with rock climbing and the Colorado lifestyle. Going back to college for electronic media positioned Carpenter for a career in film and video. She started her film career at PBS and a progressive television channel now known as FreeSpeech TV. Now a seasoned professor of digital design, Carpenter draws inspiration from her students’ passion for the environment, diversity, equity, kindness, and desire for inclusivity in class. When she’s not teaching or helping students land career-forming internships, Carpenter works on her own films. She utilizes traditional and experimental documentary and includes installation environments and experimentations with 360-degree video, VR, and augmented reality. Carpenter’s innovative work has won four Emmys and numerous other accolades. Her current project is called Awadagin Pratt: Black in America about renowned concert pianist, composer, and violinist Awadagin Pratt. The documentary shares what it is like to be a person of color in the United States and confronts issues of privilege and racism in America.
1. You often encourage your students to gain experience by doing work for non-profit organizations. What is the strategy behind this tactic?
I believe it is essential to give back to your community. I have donated my time and creativity to many non-profit organizations. I believe in paying it forward, and I hope my students see the importance of giving back by donating their skills and talents. I lead by example.
I developed a course called Design Studio 3, which allows students to experience the client/designer relationship before graduation. One of our projects in the class is service-based and involves creating an entire design identity for selected local non-profit organizations. This learning opportunity requires students to assign and assume leadership positions; it requires communication, teamwork, collaboration, and defining the design problem. The project culminates in a design brief, logotype, printed materials, a website, and a promotional video. This effort reinforces our belief that one can "learn to be good (designers) while doing good." Over the past fifteen years, my classes have worked with numerous prestigious organizations, including the Jason Motte Foundation (a former Rockies pitcher dedicated to striking out cancer), The Wolf Sanctuary, Breckenridge Film Festival, Responder Strong, Longhope Donkey Rescue, The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center for Faculty Development, Starfish One by One and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, University of California, Berkeley, the Abbott House, Helping with Horsepower, and the Africa School Assistance Project, among others.
2. You are leading the Scandinavian by Design study abroad trip to Copenhagen this summer along with fellow faculty member Travis Vermilye. Why was Copenhagen chosen as the location for students studying design?
Copenhagen is a fantastic city focused on sustainability, innovation, and design that improves life. I have co-led the Scandinavian by Design program five times since 2012. The course focuses on design practice and architecture and explores the advantages of interdisciplinary community-based collaboration. We visit numerous studios, design firms, art galleries, and a few castles! I have many dear friends in Copenhagen. I am good friends with Sille Krukow, a nudging specialist, or a behavioral designer, and the INDEX project.
I was able to meet the Princess of Denmark while presenting Enough White Teacups at the INDEX Awards!
3. You were instrumental in facilitating internships for CAM students at the recently opened Meow Wolf Denver location. How did this relationship come about? Why are internships good opportunities for artists-in-training?
My friend Laurie Baefsky (former CAM Associate Dean) brought me into the project. Madison Kelleher and I worked on the Meow Wolf CAM internships last fall. In January 2021, Meow Wolf completed hiring interns for their spring internships. Sixteen of the Twenty interns were CU Denver students, and they spanned all three departments! Internships are excellent opportunities to gain skills and confidence in the workplace.
4. What is something you have been surprised to learn from a student (or students) during your time in CAM?
I am always learning from my students, and they turn me on to great music, movies, and motion pieces. I am always impressed by our students’ work ethic. Many students drop their brothers and sisters off for school before they head to class, or work full time to help support their families. Last year one of our digital design seniors, Lorena Fierro, focused her thesis on being a TikTok influencer, and I learned so much about her drive and desire to build an audience and have an entrepreneurial and non-traditional career. TikTok has such an amazing reach and audience potential.
5. Do you have any rituals or rhythms you use to get into a creative state of mind?
I like to work in the morning. When I am working on a film project, I set goals for the day and start to edit first thing in the morning. I find a whole day can pass when I am editing. I just love telling stories.