AAC News, Alumni News, Diversity

Interview with Bill Parrish | Winner of the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award

April 27, 2022
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2022 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient William (Bill) Parrish​

Interview by Christine Carli (2008 | Board of Trustees President)

Christine: How did you decide to attend the Art Academy? 

Bill: Originally, my hope was to get a full scholarship to the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. I was accepted and offered a scholarship, but it didn’t cover all my tuition. My second choice was the Savannah College of Art & Design. They offered me a full scholarship, but after looking at the overall costs of living, it was too expensive. The Art Academy of Cincinnati was my third choice. Not thinking I would get in, I submitted my application anyway. At that time, I was a bit intimidated by all I had heard about it’s rich tradition of artists, (Frank Duveneck, Elizabeth Nourse….) and what a great school it was. After getting accepted, I submitted my portfolio, and got a full scholarship. That, coupled with other private scholarships and grants, it made my decision easy. Without the scholarship and other needed expenses covered, I would not have been able to attend. I’m so thankful that the admissions office actually sat down with me during this process to make sure I had the needed resources to attend the school.

Christine: What mediums interested you?

Bill: Before attending the Art Academy, I was pretty prolific at drawing and painting. I graduated from Princeton High School, and my high school art teacher, Mr. Frank Shands, who happened to be African-American, and a great artist, was a huge Michelangelo fan, and taught art from the Masters perspective. But when I started attending the Art Academy, they encouraged me to experiment, try new things. As a result, I was exposed to a plethora of mediums of interest: Charcoal, Printmaking, Egg Tempra, Gouache, Watercolor, Oils, Acrylic, I eventually gravitated to using whichever I felt solved the problem and still use all of them. 

Christine: Can you recall a memory from your experience from the Art Academy that stays with you today? 

: Yes. At the end of my second year at the Academy I has a random encounter we the Art Museums designer Noel Martin in the museum library and became friends with him. Noel was not only an amazing designer, he was just as great a man. I’d stop by his office on occasion and ask him if it was ok to hang around to watch him work. He’d share stories about the jazz musicians in New York and Chicago back in the 1940’s among other things of interest. I found myself in Noels office on a regular basis, sometimes having lunch with him, and learning what the designer for the museum did. He finally put me to work doing small projects as I learned about design, type and a bunch of other things just having to do with just life in general. I hadn’t declared a major yet, and was torn between Painting and Design. I shared my struggle with him, and he said, “Do both.” I made my decision during the summer before my third year that Design & Illustration would be my focus. By the time my last year rolled around at the Art Academy, I think I was spending more time with Noel Martin than in my classes. Noel was my hero. He gave me projects to do that allowed me to have “real life” projects for my portfolio and not just class projects. We became good friends and I even got to know his son Reid Martin, who was a good designer himself.

Christine: What do you value most about your education?

Bill: The people. The relationships

Christine: Who were some of your favorite teachers?

b: Two of my favorite people weren’t teachers. Paul (the janitor) and Mrs. Zepf who ran the bookstore. Paul had a great relationship with the students. He was quiet, but you could approach Paul and talk to him about practically anything. I considered him the Academy’s Psychologist that nobody other than the students knew.

Mrs. Zepf was like our mom. She was sweet, but could get after you if she saw you involved in mischief. She looked out for all of us. At times, I didn’t have money to pay for art supplies I needed. She would say, Don’t worry about it, and give me what I needed.

Some of my favorite teachers were: Gary Gaffney, Connie McClure, Anne Mioke, Larry Goodridge, April Foster, Baron Krody, Frank Sotagata, Alex Gellen, Jay Zumeta, Diane Smith-Hurd, Mark Barensfeld

Christine: How do you apply what you learned at the AAC to the work you’re doing today?

Bill: I apply it daily. Relationships are everything. My Art Academy education challenged me to be uncomfortable. It exposed me to what real education looks like when you willing to try different things outside of your strengths. I couldn’t have believed that attending the Academy and the experiences would have a “lifelong” affect in shaping who I am today. I started my career as an Artist, Designer & Illustrator, and now while I’m still doing those things, I’m now a writer, business man, community advocate, teacher and learner, just trying to embrace change for the sake of staying relevant to this ever changing culture.

Christine: As lifelong creative, what are you most passionate about doing?

Bill: Engaging community!

Christine: You are drawn to community building and sharing your love of art with others. What prepared you for creating a cultural arts center from the ground up?

Bill: I wasn’t planning to create a cultural arts center from the ground up. I can truly say that because of my Art Academy experience challenging me to engage in things that I wasn’t comfortable with for the sake of learning and growing, that creating a cultural arts center was just part of my life process. Something I had to do for the sake of creating a gathering place for community. I’m now equally as comfortable as a business man as I am with art.

Christine: If you could say something to your 21 year old self about being an artist, what would it be? 

Bill: I’d give my 21year old self the same challenge that was given to me as I entered the Art Academy : Embace the uncomfortable. Stay relevant to the culture that surrounds you.

Christine: How do you feel about your recognition as the Art Academy’s 2022 Distinguished Alumnus?

Bill: This is soooo humbling. It brought me to tears. This interview can’t really communicate how on so many levels, the Art Academy of Cincinnati prepared me for my professional career, and life. I’ve received numerous awards throughout my career, a number of them from prestigious organizations, but this one by far means the most to me. It has nothing to do with the award itself. I believe that I embody the Art Academy DNA, and what it represents as an institution. One that makes its educational experience unique, and sets it apart, far apart from other art institutions.

About Bill Parrish

William (Bill) Parrish is the Founder and Executive Director of the Eckstein Cultural Arts Center in the Village of Glendale. ECAC is a gathering place for creative and thought leaders, young as well as seasoned, to practice their craft and share collaboratively through education, art, music, theater and more.

It was Bill’s Senior Thesis Exhibit at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, that served as a platform to launch his career. Bill decided to invite a number of local Advertising Agencies, Printing Companies, and Newspaper executives to his exhibit. Among the 25 invitations he sent out, one was to Randy Cochran, Scripps-Howards Graphics Editor for all of their newspapers throughout the country. Mr. Cochran attended Bill’s exhibit, and was so impressed, he offered him his first professional job. Two weeks after graduation from the Art Academy Bill moved to Denver, Colorado to begin his first professional job as an Editorial Illustrator and Page Designer for the Rocky Mountain News, the largest of the Scripps-Howard Newspapers. This opportunity opened other opportunities, that included Bill becoming Art Director of the Cincinnati Enquirers Tristate Magazine, Assistant Features Editor/ Graphics Editor for the Fort Wayne Journal-News, and Graphics Editor for the Hamilton Journal-News.

Bill went on to become Communications Director for Bristol Myers-Squibb during the merger of the two corporate giants. This was where his real educational experience began. Understanding the unique DNA of 2 large organizations, navigating the strengths and weaknesses of both, and developing a strategic plan to leverage two conglomerates into a single brand was a great experience. Managing the communications, design, and production of a consistent look and feel throughout the company required much more than just the design process.

Before devoting his fulltime work to developing the Eckstein Cultural Arts Center, Bill spent two decades as Strategic Communications, Brand Manager, and Design Director for such mega churches as: The Vineyard Community Church in Springdale, Ohio, Perimeter Church, Duluth, Georgia, Westlake Hill Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas, First Presbyterian Church Edmund, Oklahoma, & Christ Memorial Church, Holland, Michigan. Bill’s career began as a Professional Artist, Designer & Illustrator, but transitioned into Communications Director, Brand Manager, and Design Director.

Aside from his career work, Bill Illustrates and designing books, annual reports, corporate identity signage, posters, is a brand consultant and designer, exhibits his fine art, sings and plays acoustic guitar. 

Bill has received numerous awards throughout his career including a Silver Medal from the Society of Newspaper Design in Design & Illustration, The Indianapolis Art Director’s Show, Best in Design, Denver Art Directors Club, Best in Illustration, First Place Ohio Best in Newspaper Design Associated Press, First Place Ohio Best in Newspaper Illustration Associated Press for the Hamilton Journal News. Communication Arts Bronze Medal in Illustration and Design. Best of Show. Holland, Michigan Annual Competitive Art Show. One person exhibits at The Denver Art Museum, Fort Wayne Art Museum, Congregation Beth Shalom, Chicago, Illinois, Group exhibit at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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