Born in Urbana born and raised in Champaign by a dad who worked in the administration building, Eric Nash didn't knew his way around campus and Campustown better than many upperclassmen when he arrived for college.
“My friend, Mitch Marlow, who is now the PR director of the Virginia Theatre, and I roamed the streets of Campustown as kids going to Record Service, Nature’s Table, Zorba’s and Garcia’s," says the artist and painter, who now calls Los Angeles home.
"My first alcoholic beverages as an 18-year-old — legal back then — was at Kam’s, owned by the dad of my childhood friend, Marty Kamerer. So many great memories. By the time I entered the U of I as a student, I knew the place like the back of my hand.
“In regard to my college years and one specific and memorable place, it is the School of Art and Design building at Fourth and Gregory. It already had a lot of history for me before I became a U of I student in art. My brother and I had attended classes as participants in community art program for children developed by a family friend, Walter Johnson, an art education professor.
"Kenwood, my grade school, went on field trips to the adjacent museum where I saw my first paintings and decided I would be an artist.
“It was quite a thrill to finally walk into that building as a real college student and no longer just a townie kid. It already felt like home and it literally became my home for the four years I studied for a BFA in graphic design.
"I went to class there and failed and succeeded there. I ate and drank — illegal but we snuck it in — and even slept there. I would work until the wee hours on projects listening to WPGU, joking with my fellow students as we stressed out about a looming critique only hours away.
"It was there I was in my first art shows and was taught by the artists and designers who inspired me, mentored me and literally shaped the person I am. I’m still connected to many of my classmates and professors I met there. In fact, I still have re-occurring dreams about the building.
“It’s a plain building with Mid-Century overtones, almost industrial in nature with lots of muted battleship gray coloring. Frankly, it’s kind of ugly. It was always a little threadbare as the School of Art and Design was never well-funded by the university.
“Despite all of that, it had and still has the comfiness and warmth of a favorite old sweater to me. It was one giant art studio — a sort of a playroom for big kids. But we really didn’t play. We worked hard. Art and design projects are very time-consuming and jobs back then were hard to find. The stakes were high.
"So much is different today with the advent of the digital revolution. Now, art and design is front and center in culture and commerce instead of being considered odd or even useless by some.
"My computer science and engineering friends always laughed at me for being in art and design. It was 1986 and little did we know that the kind of creative thinking happening in this obscure building on the edge of campus would soon change the world through visionaries like Steve Jobs.
“As with Silicon Valley, the university has finally begun to recognize the value of art and design as it relates to, shapes and drives the digital age. It’s thrilling to see this humble place newly abuzz with world changing ideas, potential and creativity with each new generation.
“Speaking of new generations, the most exciting thing about this place today is that it still hosts art education programs for community children like my brother and me. When Curtis passed away my mom, Nancy Nash, and I started a fund in his name with help from Brenda Nardi, director of development for the College of Fine and Applied Art, to give money to that program.
"For me, the building is not only a soulful and happy memory but more alive than ever creating the future. I visit every time I come home.”