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Creating Community for Otis College Alumni: A Q&A with Director of Alumni Relations Hazel Mandujano

Hazel Mandujano
Halley Sutton

Hazel Mandujano (BFA ’03, MFA ’10) has been appointed Director of Alumni Relations in the Office of Institutional Advancement at Otis College of Art and Design. Her connection to the Otis College community spans 20 years, having earned her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts and a graduate degree in Graphic Design at the College. She served as a senior lecturer for Communication Arts and Foundation, a lecturer for Creative Action, and an academic coordinator for Graduate Graphic Design and, most recently, Foundation.

Hazel’s additional work experience reflects diverse administrative and creative talents, including such roles as manager of Giant Robot Shop and Gallery, curator of Meltdown Comics, adjunct professor of typography at California State University, Los Angeles, and graphic design and media specialist at California State University, Long Beach. She has also managed national marketing campaigns for several advertising agencies.

Hazel has an active studio practice as an artist/designer, curator, and educator. She completed a design residency at the Sandberg Institute (Amsterdam, Netherlands) and is co-founder of mandujano/cell, which has featured work by several Otis College alumni. She is married to Juan Capistran (BFA ‘99).

Q: Tell me a little about your experience at Otis College as a student.

Coming to Otis College was a big emotional investment for my family. They were, and remain, very supportive. I am the first person in my family to get a four-year degree. I did not have any financial support and no one at home understood what my life as a student was like. I worked pretty much seven days a week — if I wasn’t in my studio working, I had an on-campus job as a book mender in the Millard Sheets Library. That was one of the ways I learned how to bind books, which turned into my passion—bookmaking, book design, and bookbinding. I learned a lot from Catalog Librarian Cathy Chambers. I had excellent faculty and mentors in the Fine Arts department and the Liberal Arts and Sciences department. Since so many staff members were artists and designers, they also served as mentors. I was fortunate to have Meg Cranston, Larry Johnson, Scott Grieger, Carole Caroompas, and John Souza as faculty. They have made such an impact on me, then and now.

Q: How did your time at Otis prepare you as an artist? How do you balance your creative practice with working?

A: Otis definitely instilled a sense of rigor and a strong work ethic. Even now, I work full-time as a way to supplement my creative practice. As long as I’m able to have enough income to continue my practice, I’m happy. I work to live, I do not live to work. The rigor at Otis really helped me find a way to balance both the day-to-day job and my studio practice. I’ve had a full-time job for several years, and I run a small bookstore and gallery. In addition, I do freelance work, usually for artist galleries, artists directly, and sometimes museums. I have a very active studio practice. I can’t say that it’s easy but I enjoy my studio practice so much that it’s not work, it’s just what I do. My mind does not shut off or switch when I am outside of the studio; I am always observing and developing ideas and methodologies. I manage my time well. That’s something that came from being a student at Otis. All of my strengths in time management and project management, I gained as a Foundation student. I give myself time limits while working on projects and stick to them. I’m confident about the decisions I make. I don’t procrastinate.

Q: How can students stay connected to Otis after graduating and what are some benefits you see for alumni that remain connected?

A: I act as a bridge between the Otis College campus and its attendees and graduates, so alumni can always communicate with me directly. Communication is key. Building community is something that’s very important to me in this role. As an alumna, I realize that we have an opportunity to create meaningful relationships, develop partnerships, and create benefits that extended past graduation.

One of the biggest benefits for alumni is that they are always welcome to come back to campus. They can see what’s going on, communicate with their former department chairs, teachers, and now me. Chairs, faculty, and staff are resources who can offer information on best studio practices and other professional advice. I encourage alumni to email us and connect with us on social media to let us know what’s going on in their lives. In short, stay connected.

This is your community, in and out of school. Product designers, fashion designers, digital media specialists, toy designers, fine artists—you have access to all of these connections, and my office and the College itself can always act as an access point.

Q: What opportunities do you see as director of alumni relations to build and influence the creative community of L.A.?

A: I would really love to have events at the Otis College campus that are open to the community—not just the local community, but also other schools. Maybe we have a steamroller print party or writing circles, or readings and workshops, and other kinds of events, where Otis serves as a hub of creativity. We have alumni who have significantly impacted Los Angeles’ culture. For example, one of the founders of the L.A. Zine Fest is an Otis alumus, Simon Sotelo (‘10). We have lots of work to do. I think that, as an artist, what I bring is an understanding of what an artist is, and what a designer does, and what is possible when we spend time together.

Q: You also run a gallery in Inglewood. When did that open, and what was the process of starting your own gallery like?

A: Mandujano/Cell has been open for two years, in Inglewood. I started the space with my husband, Juan Capistran (’99), who is also an alumnus. It’s not a commercial gallery. It’s a project space, and we have a small bookstore. (I’ve wanted to have a bookstore since I was a teenager.) We curate our book selection carefully. We’re mostly interested in counter-culture books, and books related to art and design. Some of these books are often rare or one-of-a-kind. We do not work with distributors. We get our books directly from people who make or publish them. We carry a very limited selection and quantities of each book, and we publish our own books, too. We have published three titles so far. Right now, the space is mostly open on Saturdays, from 1 to 6pm. We always hope that younger artists come, people who are curious, everyone is welcome. We’re on the fringe, and we like operating that way.

Q: How does living in L.A. influence your creative work, and what opportunities do you see Los Angeles affording Otis alumni?

A: Living in L.A. is a big part of my creative practice. In terms of personal history, I grew up in Wilmington, near San Pedro and Carson, which is a kind of overlooked part of the city. Being able to see so many people, so many cultures crossing—the reality is that L.A. is a melting pot but it’s quite segregated, too—being able to understand that and become fluent in so many different ways of working and living has had a huge creative impact on me.

In terms of what it can afford alumni — there are so many possibilities, so many access points, and there is so much to learn. There are so many people to meet, and there is a huge artistic community here. I think what’s really beautiful about our city is that there’s never a moment when there’s not something to absorb. There’s so much happening all of the time. You can never say our city is boring.

Q: What’s a perfect day for you in L.A.?

A: A perfect day for me is Red West Pizza in Wilmington, a good book or good company, and sitting at Point Fermin Park in San Pedro. My favorite kind of day allows for moments that are contemplative and conducive to creative recharge. It is what my friend, alumnus Marco Rios (BFA ‘97), and I call “me me time.”

That is actually one of the most important alumni experiences: maintaining relationships with classmates who become lifelong friends. I have so many close friends that I keep in touch with from school, which stimulates my practice. Having them to talk to, to share ideas with and to collaborate with, or to share supplies and materials—all of that originates from the Otis College experience.

Q: Last question. What’s your favorite color?

A: Powder blue.

You can reach Hazel Mandujano at and (310) 665-6976.