Art Institute of California building, North Hollywood by LA Wad
Art Institute of California building, North Hollywood, a photo by LA Wad on Flickr.

A few days ago an ad popped up on my Facebook page to study graphic design at The Art Institute of Hollywood. So I clicked it and said I was interested in more information.

Two minutes later the phone rang.

The Art Institute was calling and they wanted to speak to me about visiting their shiny, glass, black skyscraper school on Lankershim near Magnolia.

I was connected to a woman who interviewed me and learned everything private about my financial and career conditions, and about why I might want to study graphic arts.

By Good Friday afternoon, I was at the luxury campus hi-rise, a gloriously slick and modern edifice, landscaped with tall palms and clumps of ornamental grasses, tended to by security guards and flocks of skinny young artists on skateboards, gliding past with black skin and tight jeans.

A sweet XXL at the security desk, stuffed into spandex, handed me a check-in clipboard, and minutes later I was ushered into the offices, past the cubicles, into a room where an admissions officer filtered my eligibility into his academic actuarial tables, and proceeded to assess whether I, 51-years-old and out-of-work, formerly working in TV Production, but now employed by Word Press, Pinterest and Flickr, might make a good candidate for this career builder college where the average graduate makes close to $30,000 a year and finds fulfilling work in online cartoons, illustrations, digital packaging, and assisting other artists.

Answers that once would have disqualified me for school, were now the exact ones I needed to enter: gay, middle-aged, in need of work, looking, exploring. Any heartbeat with a credit line was welcome.

We rode the elevator up into a brilliantly outfitted and equipped school, a place where tall smoked glass windows overlooked the exciting metropolis of North Hollywood and Toluca Lake, rooms of unending concrete floors and acres of Mac computers. Every corner held more computers, and the library, a place once filled with stacks of books, now held long tables of electronic screens.

Smiling broadly, the admittance lady led me on a tour of walls and galleries, filled with student projects: Project Runway Catwalkery, environmentally sensitive water bottles and graphic labeling, photography of smokestacks and digitally altered women who represented “The Seven Deadly Sins”. All in all, it was a creative mesh and mix of all the aspirations of the school and meant to persuade me that any idea, no matter how banal, might be sold and packaged to a wider audience.

We passed one poster that advertised an emergency number. to answer the serious problems faced by 18-22 year olds: roommate problems, parent problems, car trouble, relationship headaches. There was a number to call if it all was too much to handle. Such is life that no number exists for emergencies once one graduates from college.

Back in the room, it was like shopping for a car at Galpin Ford. The unveiling of the numbers and the sticker shock: $49,000 for a 1.5 year associates degree in Graphic Arts and a $99,000 price tag should you want to complete a bachelor’s degree. When I expressed shock at the numbers, the finance manager was called back in, but he was busy, so unlike Galpin Ford, I was free to walk out back into the sunshine noir of North Hollywood where muscles and 24-Hour-Fitness provided a tranquilizing visual after a tour that promised a future that nobody but a sucker could afford.

3 thoughts on “The Skyscraper School

  1. One point you missed was graduation rates, a question I’m sure they would have ducked and dodged. Bad enough that these for profits are churning out grads loaded with debt and with modest earning potential, but even sadder are the ones who can’t keep borrowing huge sums, never get so much as an associates, and are soon back in a twelve dollar an hour job with twenty, thirty, or forty grand in student loans dragging them down. Still, as Darrell said…an excellent essay!


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