What's the Value of a KCAD Education? Alum Jim Arendt Is Paying It Forward One Dollar at a Time

Posted March 6, 2023 in Painting, Alumni, Giving, Scholarship

Twenty years after graduating from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD), Jim Arendt (‘01, BFA Painting) is creating something brand-new: a chance for someone else to follow their dreams of studying art and design.

As a loyal supporter of KCAD scholarships since 2015, Arendt has made a commitment to giving back, even when his own pockets were less than full.  “I didn’t always have means,” he says. “I wasn’t poor, but I’ve experienced periodic poverty. So, it was because of the generosity of other people who had foresight that I was able to go to school. It was little pushes like that which added up and allowed me to be who I am today and do the work that I do.”

Headshot of artist and KCAD alum Jim Arendt ('01, BFA Painting)KCAD Alum Jim Arendt ('01, BFA Painting).

Arendt’s artistic journey took him from Flint, Michigan, to Grand Rapids, “which was for me a big shiny city,” he says. There, he studied foundations with KCAD instructors Deb Rockman, Tim Fisher, Sandy Lummen, and David Greenwood.

“When I attended, we were still all in one building,” he says. “Kendall was so small, and everybody knew me by name. My instructors always treated me like family and offered me books and insight on how all of this worked. They were working artists, and that was a big attraction to me because I didn’t know any artists growing up.”

He credits Rockman for teaching him the figure structure that he still relies on today. “I fell in love with how the body works, and Deb was a great source of information.” These days, he’s passing on what he learned with her to his own students at Coastal Carolina University—a fact he was pleased to demonstrate by asking a student by his side to identify the bone at the tip of her elbow (which she correctly named as the olecranon process).

In addition to serving as an Associate Professor, he is also a working artist, known primarily for his textile work creating portraits out of denim. “I was looking around for materials that resonated with the working-class people I grew up with,” he says. “I think somebody planted a seed about materials and what they might mean, and it grew into this inception-like drive in my head. I tend to follow materials. Coal, leather, oil, things that seem to resonate more with the lives of people that I care about, and that’s what drew me away from painting and drawing eventually. Denim is one of those materials, and Wrangler Blue and Acid Wash White are just another palette.”

Textile work by Jim Arendt using denim applique and zippers.Jim Arendt's work was recently featured in UICA's 2022 exhibition, Manufatured Narratives: Chronicles of Textile Artists.
Jim Arendt, "Sarah & Augustus," 2016. Denim appliqué, zippers. 

Arendt says it was opportunities at KCAD that allowed him to do what he does today. “I had a strong value return on the investment that was my education,” he says. “That’s why I’m so glad to support Kendall.”

Taking inspiration from the political campaigns built on small donations, he began by giving just a dollar month to support KCAD scholarships. “I wouldn’t be able to throw $500 out of my monthly budget, but it was easy for me to give a dollar every month. A year after that, I could look at the statement and say, that’s not enough, let’s do two dollars. I think I’m up to eight dollars this year. Next year, it’ll be 16, and then up to 32, and then we’re starting to talk about real money!”

His message to other KCAD graduates is, “Start small. I think you’ll be surprised how easy it is to give a dollar out of your budget to something that was so impactful for us. A dollar, given enough time, can turn into real money, like it’s going to do for me.”

In fact, since 2016, Arendt’s gifts have been matched through the Ferris Futures Scholarship Challenge, doubling his contributions. His donations now support the KCAD General Scholarship Fund, which has supported 28 scholarships since it was established in 2019. 

Arendt hopes more KCAD alumni will follow his example and give what they can—deep pockets not required. “I would encourage other graduates to think about how valuable the experiences Kendall offered us were, and give just a small fraction of that back so another generation of people can have the same experiences,” he says. “Frankly, I want to have other kids like me, who may be first generation or maybe don’t see themselves well-represented in the halls of academia, to have opportunities to use that money.”

“If we want Kendall to remain strong and be here another hundred years, it’s up to us to make that happen,” he says.

The KCAD General Scholarship is a critical financial resource for KCAD students with demonstrated financial need. Thanks to The Ferris Future Scholarship Challenge extension, now is a great time to contribute. All donations toward the KCAD General Scholarship Endowment principal will be matched dollar-for-dollar by The Ferris Foundation through December 31, 2024. To learn more about how you can make a difference, visit kcad.edu/giving.

Jim Arendt received First Prize during Fiberarts International 2019, was short-listed for The 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art, and a 2018 finalist for the Elizabeth R. Raphael Founder’s Prize, Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh. He has received the South Carolina Arts Commission Visual Artist Fellowship 2014 and his work received the $50,000 top prize at ArtFields 2013. His work was chosen for the 2013 Museum Rijswijk Textile Biennial, Netherlands, and his work is in the Arkansas Art Center’s permanent collection of contemporary craft. See more of Jim Arendt's work.

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