Merick Reed: A Graduate Twelve Years in the Making | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Merick Reed: A Graduate Twelve Years in the Making

By Shelby Pasell on December 13, 2019
Furniture design work by Merick Reed ; Image credit: Merick Reed
Image credit: Merick Reed

This week at the Fall 2019 Commencement, thirty-three BFA and BS graduates will celebrate the many years of hard work and dedication they have invested in their education at MCAD. For one graduate, the road has been a little longer: Merick Reed started pursuing his degree in 2007.

Twelve years later, Reed is graduating with a BFA in furniture design. Like most graduates, he is excited about the opportunities available to him, but unlike most of his peers, he has been running a successful environmental design firm since 2001.   

After high school, Reed was “itching to get out into the real world” and didn’t complete a degree. He worked at an environmental design agency that employed 3D and graphic designers, “And that’s where I really learned to combine the two. Then I ultimately wanted to be my own boss.”

He started Carbon Collaborative with colleagues from an architecture firm, and since 2001 has designed retail concepts, trade show booths, and corporate interiors for clients including General Mills, EcoLab, and Target. Though he has enjoyed his “day job,” he hopes to pursue his own public art and furniture projects now that he’s graduated. 

We sat down with Reed to ask why he came back to finish his degree, what the experience was like, and whether the twelve years of work was worth it. 

You are running a successful business, why come back and get your degree?

I did get successful, but as I got older I wanted to finish my degree more and more. I really only had enough time and money to do one class at a time so I just started, one class at a time. It was really challenging, to go back later and question all the things you’ve been doing.

It’s really easy to fall into doing what you’ve always been doing. But this is a place that really challenges you if you want to do well here. There is a great community here of looking at things differently than in the commercial world, pushing me further artistically. 

I really got to love going to school and having that different atmosphere around creative work, while I was working too. It was really a place for me to explore.

Someday I would like to teach, and you have to have a degree (or degrees, as I’m learning), to teach. I’ve cared less about getting the actual diploma than going through the program. Just because it took so long too, getting the diploma was just so far out that that wasn’t such a big deal. 

And now I’m just at the cusp of graduating, wondering, where am I going to get that next? Am I going to get a master’s degree, am I gonna find some other venue to continue education in some way and get that community of critique and education? I suspect I will miss that, but we’ll see.

Sofa section with side table by Merick Reed

Do you think you approached school differently now than you did when you were just out of high school? 

I definitely look at stuff differently than students who are just out of high school. I don’t know if I could pinpoint all the different ways. 

I definitely take it more seriously, I also look at it as dollars and cents. "I’m spending this amount of money on a class, that translates to x amount of dollars per hour that I’m with this instructor, I want to get my money’s worth."

If I haven’t gotten anything out of that class, I’ll push to get something out of it. So, I’m definitely less afraid than younger students to ask questions, dumb questions, or ask additional time of the instructor.

It’s that ‘sit in the front row’ approach. Nobody wants to sit in the front row, unless you’re my age, then you come back and you’re like “hell, I’m gonna sit in the front row and I’m gonna squeeze everything out of this that I possibly can.” 

Twelve years later, was it worth it? 

I think it was worth it, I do. It’s certainly been enriching in my life. I’ve really enjoyed doing it and having the experience. I feel really lucky to be able to have gone through it and done it and be able to afford it. 

Where do you hope to be in five years? 

Five years from now I’ll have some furniture lines out there and I’ll have multiple pieces of public art or installed art somewhere that I feel good about. That’s the dream, that’s the hope, we’ll see. 

What did we miss? What do you want people to know?

Lifelong learning, I would recommend it to anybody. 

Along the way I’ve been asked dozens of times, “what’s the point?” “you don’t need a degree, you have a studio, why are you going back?” But it’s so enriching and I would recommend it, definitely to anybody in the creative world. There’s always more that you can do and explore.

"Yellow Totem" by Merick Reed.

"Cyan Stool" by Merick Reed

"Blue Totem" by Merick Reed

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