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2018 Honorary Doctorate Recipient: Will Mosgrove

To say that Academy of Art University has been a major part of honorary doctorate recipient Will Mosgrove’s life is an understatement. Mosgrove, who served as graduate director of the Academy’s School of Photography from 2006 to 2015, also earned his B.F.A. from what was then Academy of Art College. His graduating class of 1978 had just 20 members, one of whom—Anne Cook—would become his wife. The couple will celebrate 38 years of marriage later this year.

“Although things were very different 40 years ago, the tasks my fellow students faced back then are not much different than the challenges that you will face as you enter the professional marketplace,” Mosgrove told the graduates participating in the morning M.F.A commencement ceremony on May 9. “Being a successful artist is the hardest and worst job in the world—except for every other job in the universe! Creating art every day, and getting paid for it, is pretty darn cool.”

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2018 Honorary Doctorate recipient Will Mosgrove with Academy of Art University President Dr. Elisa Stephens. Photo by Bob Toy.

Mosgrove fell for photography when he was eight years old. His grandmother, a photographer in the early 1900s, brought him down to her basement darkroom while she developed some film. He watched her slip a piece of white paper into some liquid, transfixed as an image bloomed right before his eyes.

Armed with a portfolio from the Academy, Mosgrove launched a successful freelance photography business specializing in advertising after he graduated. He said being a photographer was an amazing opportunity.

“Every single job is different than the last one, and every person is different than the one before,” stated Mosgrove. “It’s like walking into a new candy store.

In a career filled with many highlights, he found shooting for Apple and getting to photograph Steve Jobs “interesting and wonderful.” Although not as high-profile as some of his other work, a photo shoot that promoted Duke University’s cancer treatment for kids was an especially moving and inspiring experience for Mosgrove.

“They were kids from age seven to 17, and they were pretty darn sick,” he explained. “They didn’t look good or feel good, but they were so filled with vitality and life, we were almost in tears.”

Mosgrove also relished his years at the Academy, especially interacting with photography students. They were welcome to drop by his office any time for a quick visit or to schedule an appointment for a longer discussion.  

“I met with 40 to 50 students a week and really enjoyed it,” he said. “Everybody brought something a little different to the office. They might want to talk about a creative block or some other concern. Or they might just want to show me some work they were proud of. It was always wonderful and different.”

  Now semi-retired, he and Cook live in Mokelumne Hill, a small town in Calaveras County. Together, they run Acme Art-Moke Hill, which Mosgrove describes as a creative playground. Along with other local artists, they offer low-cost arts and crafts workshops and classes. The couple also volunteers to teach art in their community’s schools, library and other organizations. Mosgrove considers such activities a must for all artists, especially in an era when funding for art education in public K-12 schools has been slashed.

“I challenge you to find time in your soon-to-be busy schedule to volunteer in schools, community organizations or senior centers,” he urged the graduates toward the end of his speech. “It is important that young students have resources and opportunities to learn about art and understand how art is a vital part of being a well-rounded and informed individual. Starting a volunteer effort sooner rather than later will also benefit you in many different ways: First, it doesn’t cost you anything. Second, it looks great on your resume. And third, it’s really fun!”