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News . Feature Stories . Thankful for creative education


January 13, 2014

Thankful for creative education

Mimi Becker creates scholarship in honor of Professor Barbara Stanczak '90

Thankful for creative education

Going to art school and studying painting was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Mimi Becker – and yet, it was her sixth career change and her second love. When she enrolled at CIA in 2007, she had already been successful in advertising, social work, as an associate editor for several magazines in Hollywood, and as a psychotherapist. In fact, she was finishing her Ph.D. in psychology when she began her first year as an art student. And if you’re not tired yet just reading about all that, she’s also a classically trained ballerina – her first love.

But make no mistake, art is her everything. “When I came to CIA, I fell in love. All I ever wanted to do was go to art school. This was my gift to myself. I’m a working artist now. That’s what I do. Ballet was my love and my life, and then painting came along. You usually don’t get a second chance or a second love like that. That was the most shocking thing of all.”

When Becker walked into CIA to have her portfolio reviewed, she brought her notebook of colorful doodles and admits she had no idea how to properly hold a paint brush. “But something in my gut was telling me to paint. No one at CIA stopped me. Everyone supported me. I couldn’t have asked for more from CIA. So many times in the analytical world, you could be looking for a great teacher and you could be waiting forever. Here, at CIA, they came in droves. And they were wonderfully supportive of me. They said ‘Go, go, go!”

Her abstract paintings and doodles are biomorphic and geometric, sometimes resembling early cubism. And one thing that is clear throughout: Becker is in love with color.

She explains her creative process, saying, “My inspiration is my imagination. And the life that I have lived. Everything I see in life is in my paintings. The paintings, when I look at them – I used to say this as a therapist all the time – I see front doors, side doors, and attics; meaning there are different ways to do life. If the front door doesn’t open, maybe the side door does, and if nothing works maybe we can just climb in through the attic.”

Since CIA, Becker has gone on to achieve success with her abstract paintings in numerous exhibitions held regionally, as well as in New York City and Miami. She’s had recent shows with CIA professors, including one in August at the Beachwood Community Center with Professor Emerita Barbara Stanczak ’90 and Assistant Professor Tommy White, and she looks forward to solo shows at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in March and the Solon Center for the Arts in July. She also runs her own business selling her original doodle art on everyday items at affordable prices through Café Press at

Becker recalls the many professors who inspired her work at CIA and nurtured her creativity. In addition to Stanczak and White, she acknowledges Assistant Professor Sarah Kabot, Associate Professor Lane Cooper, visiting instructors Sarah Sutton and Dan Tranberg, former faculty member Saul Ostrow, and former adjunct faculty member Tim Callaghan. She also credits her close friend, Freddie Richman, who, she says, has been incredibly supportive of her dreams to pursue a career in painting.

To give back to CIA, Becker felt inspired to create a scholarship in honor Stanczak who, she explains, never stopped encouraging her to develop her own individual, artistic voice. It’s obvious to Becker that Stanczak’s warmth and compassion as a professor had a profound influence on her own creative growth.

In creating the scholarship, Becker is clear that it is to be awarded on need. She says, “It’s a given that if you’re at CIA, you have talent. The whole purpose of a scholarship – it’s inherent really – is that a student needs some financial assistance. It’s next to impossible to be creative if you’re so worried about money.”

Becker credits her family for her philanthropic inclinations. “I wasn’t born rich. I know what it is to need, to want. I’ve been broke. I’ve been hungry. I get life. The credit really goes to my family. My parents really instilled this idea of righteousness in me, of doing good deeds. I come from a philanthropic family that has given to this community for over a hundred years. There is this notion, this virtue, that you have to give back; you have to leave the world a better place than how you find it.”

Her family established the Mildred and Martin Becker Family Foundation in 1994, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. She, along with her siblings, Kathy Englebardt and Eli Becker, now manage the philanthropic fund. The Becker Family managed the Cotton Club Bottling Company located in Cleveland for decades. The Becker Family Foundation now supports 20-30 other organizations, but Becker points out this is the first major gift she’s given. She says, “There isn’t any other place I wanted to give it. It’s simple: CIA gave to me, and now I’m giving back.”

A robust scholarship fund is crucial in allowing CIA students to receive the education they desire when they might not be able to otherwise. Scholarships enable students to continue to create, innovate, learn, and grow as artists and designers over the course of their education.

Becker gets it: “I want people to be able to go to art school. I believe in art. I believe in the beauty of making art. Where would the world be without it? It’s sort of really basic – I can’t imagine a world without art, without beauty, without color.”

For more information on how to invest in CIA’s future, contact Margaret Ann Gudbranson, Esq., director of major gifts and planned giving, at 216.421.8016 or

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CIA grad Zack Petroc, model supervisor behind #Disney's #BigHero6, dishes how his education helped him succeed

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