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Alumni Spotlight: Martina Salisbury

Apr 17 2018

After graduating from the MFA Design program in 2000, my first job was at Colors Magazine in Treviso, Italy. I had spent the previous eight years living in Italy, and this was a dream job. It was exciting to be working on the magazine that Tibor Kalman, one of my wonderful teachers in the MFA Design program, had helped to create.

By the end of that year, however, I was homesick for NYC, where I felt that I would have more opportunities for a career as an independent designer, and decided to leave Italy.

After returning to New York, I worked as a designer at MoMA, where my main project was designing (and redesigning) their members’ magazine. This was also an amazing experience. I loved the people I worked with, including my MFA Design thesis advisor, Paola Antonelli, and enjoyed being part of a such a wonderful institution.

In 2002, I decided to leave MoMA, to create a design studio within my husband’s production company. For the past 16 years, I have been creative director / co-owner of TwoSeven Inc.

Headquartered in Brooklyn, TwoSeven works with commercial and cultural clients on a variety of projects, from concept to execution, specializing in experiential design, store window displays and interiors, limited editions, and events.

Clients include Apple, Dior, Hérmes, Herman Miller, LCD Soundsystem, Louis Vuitton, Nike, and Van Cleef & Arpels. Our company currently has 40+ employees, including artists, designers, fabricators, and a few musicians, just to make things more interesting. I love collaborating with so many talented, creative individuals, and am grateful to have such amazing clients.

I also try to find time for creative side projects which allow me to combine design and writing with other interests. One recent project was co-curating an art exhibition with my MFA Design classmate, Miriam Bossard.

My thesis project, LAPSE, is a book of found snapshot photographs, collected over many years, selected and designed to create a visual narrative about memory and loss. Inspiration for the project came from my love of found photographs, and the stories told by images and objects left behind when their owners disappear.

1,000 Words, the MFA Design class taught by Tibor Kalman, was one of the inspirations for this project, as the assignment was to create a story told only with images.

Since graduation, my thesis has not progressed, but I have continued to collect found snapshots, and use them as inspiration / illustration for other design and writing projects. And I am currently working on a proposal to create a biannual publication based on LAPSE.

MFA Design was one of the most inspiring, rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, and also one of the most challenging. Many sleepless nights were spent in the studio, working on every kind of design project imaginable: design for TV, visual identity, branding, books, magazines, conceptual and curatorial projects, web design, visual narrative, and others, all at the same time!

Many projects also required us to write, and / or create our own visual content, which was a challenge I embraced.

Coming from a creative background, I found the business aspects of the program difficult at first, but am so glad to have this knowledge and experience; I continue to use everything I learned at SVA MFA Design about brand development, business, and intellectual property law, as I run my own company.

I am very grateful to have been part of the inaugural class of SVA MFA Design, for the freedom it gave me to explore different areas of design, and for the encouragement it gave me to pursue my creative interests as author of my work. I left the program with the confidence that I could take on any design challenge, and with some incredible connections to NYC’s design community.

The best part of the MFA Design program was getting to spend two years in such a creatively supportive environment, with amazing and inspiring people: classmates, instructors, guest speakers, and, of course, Steve and Lita!

MFA Design introduced me to so many incredible designers, art directors, curators, editors, illustrators, and other creative individuals, whose lessons continue to influence me in my work and life.

One special piece of design wisdom that has remained with me, as I approach every project, came from Ralph Caplan, who spoke about “constraints” making good design possible. (I’m sure I have my notes with his exact quote somewhere. I still have all of my notebooks, sketches, assignments, and various papers from my two years in MFA Design!)

I am still in touch with many of my classmates and a few of my teachers (thank you, Frank Martinez, for all of your legal advice!), and am so happy to be part of the MFA Design community. Though we don’t see each other often, due to geography and busy lives, I still think of my MFA Design classmates as some of my dearest friends.

The “do it all” approach of MFA Design is such an amazing aspect of the program, and has influenced the way I work, as it provided me with a foundation and confidence as a designer and creative director, to work on projects that involve all different kinds of design.

What advice would I give incoming students? Collaborate. Experiment. Take risks. Have fun. Don’t drink too much coffee.

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