By Dani Moritz-Long
When Brian-Marc Whittaker, now an adjunct digital media professor, graduated high school in 2005 as an aspiring artist, he wasn’t exactly feeling Florida’s famous pixie dust. Once inspired by the state’s robust film industry — which was in part driven by Walt Disney Studio’s Orlando base (which produced animated features like Lilo and Stitch, Mulan and Brother Bear) — Brian-Marc’s high school graduation came just one year after the studio’s Orlando closure.
While many of his friends excitedly embarked on their academic and professional careers, Brian-Marc’s ambitions were overshadowed by massive lay-offs and a dismal career outlook. Coupled with the state’s declining film incentive program, which officially sunset in June 2016, Brian-Marc even considered leaving the state — his family’s home since they moved from Jamaica when Brian-Marc was in elementary school.
Unwilling, however, to leave his family behind for an improved career outlook, he opted to stay in Florida, starting his studies at Valencia College before transferring to the University of Central Florida where he earned his Bachelor of Science in art teacher education.
Throughout this period, Brian-Marc found employment with Valencia in security as well as through freelance projects for traditional and emerging mediums. His favorite project among them was “Incentive for the Incentive,” a 2015-16 “labor of love,” short-format documentary that explores the decline in Florida’s film industry. In 2013, he began his tenure as an art teacher for Orange County Public Schools and, in January 2017, he transitioned from his Valencia security role to his current role as a part-time faculty member. (Fun fact: his mother, Barbara Whittaker, is also a part-time Valencia faculty member.)
While he’s grateful for his position with security — which opened doors to networking opportunities with Valencia faculty — Brian-Marc is overjoyed to once again be completely immersed in art through education and practice. A budding artist since age 4, when his father’s horrific accident inspired him to communicate through illustration (and plenty of red crayon), he particularly enjoys empowering the next generation of artists, regardless of their preferred medium.
“I enjoy helping the next generation of artists because I felt that, when I was a student, not every teacher was into animation or film making like I was,” he said. “I found that I have some shared interests with the students. I’m younger so they can relate to me better. Also, being a minority, I can relate to some students on that front. I can help them navigate going from high school to college because a lot of them don’t have that guidance.”
As a Valencia alumni who benefited from programs like Bridges to Success, Brian-Marc says his best advice to his high school students is simple. “Go to Valencia.”
Unfortunately, he said, many of his high school art students don’t realize they can afford Valencia or that the College offers art programs at all. With Brian-Marc’s guidance, however, he’s helping students discover everything Valencia has to offer, including the new state-of-the-art Arts and Entertainment building.
Commenting on Valencia’s latest development, he said, “Valencia and Orlando are both growing up. It feels like they’re going through puberty and just now getting the cool stuff. Students now have a local and affordable place to go to and access the best equipment out there.”
Plus, he said, “I like the overall design and the synergy that the East Campus has. You have Film, Sound, Graphic Design, Theater, the Fine Arts, Dance and the traditional musicians. Everyone’s in the same space within a few buildings.”
Brian-Marc’s passion, enthusiasm and complete immersion in Central Florida education makes him the perfect fit for Valencia.
Noting that glass-slipper fit, Dean of Arts and Entertainment Wendy Givoglu said, “I am impressed by the ways that Brian-Marc has gotten involved in our programs, specifically through his work with our Evans High School and Universal Orlando Art of Tomorrow Scholars Summer Camps. Because Brian-Marc is an artist, a high school teacher and a Valencia professor, he brings invaluable perspective and has really connected with our high school students who we serve during the summer. We are so glad to have Brian-Marc on the Arts and Entertainment team!”
Mirroring Wendy’s praise, Digital Media Professor Rob McCaffrey added, “Brian-Marc is dedicated to being the best professor and mentor possible. He loves his subject matter and is genuinely concerned with the success of his students.”
When he isn’t in the classroom teaching, you can find Brian-Marc honing his craft (click here to view his studio art portfolio) or in the seat of the student, as he’s currently pursuing his Master’s of Fine Arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s Values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.