And he does these things with creativity, skill, calm and modesty. He is a sensitive and inventive designer and a generous collaborator who likes to solve problems and make things happen. In short, he is an ideal colleague, especially in the changing world of an art museum.
Salvador is also a devoted father and husband, and he looks pretty cool on a motorcycle.
Paul: So what are you laughing at?
salvador: My new bike is a Harley-Davidson Softail Breakout. It has a big rear tire and a 1700cc engine, so it’s big enough for two.
Paul: Look at me, nodding your head like I know what you’re talking about. Maybe we should come back to that.
Paul: Tell me how you started at the museum.
salvador: I went to night school at a design academy downtown, majoring in advertising and design. To pay for my education, I got a job as a lab technician at a photo lab just down the street from the museum and started learning Photoshop. I’ve always been interested in computers but didn’t want to be a programmer. I wanted to do something with art and computers, so that was kind of my starting point.
One day a designer from the museum came into the shop and told me they were looking for someone to make labels. So I applied and got the job here. It was in March 1999. After a year or two, a position as a designer opened up, and the director at the time decided to give me a chance. And it worked. So I was working as a professional designer before I even finished design school. I was able to take free classes at the School of the Art Institute and transfer credits to my design school.
Paul: And you grew up in Mexico?
salvador: I was born in central Mexico, in the state of Guanajuato, in a town called Manuel Doblado, named after a member of Benito Juárez’s cabinet. We moved here in 1994, when I was 17. It was my last year of high school. And the hardest thing is that I had to learn English.
Paul: That might sound a bit stressful.
salvador: Yes it was. They transferred most of my credits, but to graduate I had to take four English classes, two history classes, and for some reason a gym.
Paul: Were you interested in art growing up?
salvador: I was always drawing cartoons and making signs, things like that. A teacher asked me to make invitations for events. I once made over 200 handmade invitations. But they paid me a little, so I started to get more interested.
I was really good at sketching and drawing things to scale and thought I wanted to be an architect. But I became more interested in graphic design and advertising. For some reason, my big goal was to one day design a billboard. It sounded so exciting. Now I’ve done a lot.
Paul: Did it meet your expectations?
salvador: Not really. (Laughs) Maybe a little.
Paul: When I started working here, I remember you were sitting on a stool at a real drafting table, even though you were using computers at the time. Am I crazy or have things changed since 1999?
salvador: Highligths. We did all our work in the QuarkXPress program at the time. And we had a local server to save all our files. It was very, very slow to load images into a file. You really had to think about any change you wanted to make, imagine it in your brain, because the computer would take so long. It was very laborious. After switching to InDesign, the technical part became more intuitive. Now, you must be more aware of design trends than programs.
Paul: How has the work changed?
salvador: Our approach to exhibitions is different now. The process starts earlier, about 18 months in advance. Before, we were brought in later in the planning process, and there was little time to explore and come up with ideas. It’s more elaborate now, and there are a lot of exhibits. As a team, we do everything. The main components are the environmental graphics for the galleries, and then we also do everything related to our ad campaigns: building wraps, vehicle wraps, billboards, advertisements, digital ads, invites, programs, window displays, banners, banners street, so many things. We supervise the entire process, from the research phase to the actual design, production and then installation. Of course, computers are much faster. We couldn’t have done the same amount of work 15 years ago.
I miss the drawing board and sitting on a stool. He felt more active or something. Now I use a standing desk a lot.
Paul: What are the projects or exhibitions that have been important to you?
salvador: There are so many, but the first would be the Lichtenstein retrospective in 2012. To start with, it was a great exhibition, especially the way they used the space. But this was my first time going out into the world with a tape measure and looking for places to put environmental graphics. I walked around, measuring walls and windows. It was me who suggested wrapping graphics on the low stone wall adjacent to the Monroe Street sidewalk, where visitors like to sit while eating at the food trucks. It was also our first time doing bus wraps, so I had to figure out how to do that. I was left free to try things, which was the same for Magritte in 2014, where we put this huge graphic on the roof of the museum, a graphic that could only be seen from tall buildings, helicopters and planes. As a designer, it was exciting.
Paul: You had a lot of creative input.
salvador: For sure. The biggest exposure for me, however, was Van Gogh’s rooms. I made a graphic on the wall which was a drawing of the actual bedroom plus enlargements, a timeline and other things. There was more time allocated to the design of this exhibition, which is why we were able to do all of this. More importantly, it was the one my wife and kids enjoyed the most. They still remember it very well, the whole story.
Examples of Charts of Van Gogh’s Bedrooms
Paul: Was your family influenced by your work at the museum?
salvador: Highligths. My boys are called Leonardo and Vincent! They come to visit the museum a lot. And for years, when they were children, they went to summer art camps at the school of the Art Institute. Vincent, the youngest, is going to university next year and wants to be an architect. Leo is studying international business. I think he’s a good artist, but he’s not going to continue. That’s good, better to know now than later. But he likes to bring friends here.
Paul: I remember seeing them during their camp lunch breaks and watching them grow year after year.
salvador: Even though we live in Indiana, they feel so familiar with the museum and downtown that they feel like they’re from here.
Paul: Speaking of artists, who inspires you?
salvador: Warhol, Richter, and everything related to prints. I know my name is not based on Salvador Dalí, but I’d like to think it was inspired by him.
Paul: Dalí would probably insist on saying it.
salvador: And since I mentioned it before, I like Van Gogh a lot—Bedroom, as I said. And I like The Drinkers. It reminds me of getting together with friends and enjoying a pint or two while we talk.
Paul: Speaking of pleasures, let’s get back to cycling.
salvador: I ride with my wife, Melina, as a passenger. More than anything, it’s relaxing. You have all this open space. Of course, you are exposed to the elements. If it rains, you get wet. If it’s cold, you’re cold. If you are hot, you drink plenty of fluids. But it’s just you, the scenery, the sound of the motorbike, the wind. You’re always looking up at the sky, making sure there’s no storm coming, ’cause we’ve been caught in storms, and you have to say, “Okay, that’s where we need to go. stop and let the storm pass.”
Paul: So you like to be exposed to the elements.
salvador: Yeah, I know. The kind of suffering makes me feel alive. In a car, you are in a sort of cage. You don’t feel the wind or the sun on your face. Or the cold. Once we went to Niagara Falls and our hands were so cold even the hot water was cold. But when it passes, it relaxes you.
Paul: It feels like a more visceral experience.
salvador: It is, and you have this good memory of having gone through this thing, this ordeal or whatever. We always stop at breweries and bars in very small towns, and the people are always very welcoming. They go out of their way to help you. Wherever you go, people smile, like they know you’re having fun. You travel, you ask for nothing.
The best part is the kids on the street. When they see the motorcycle, their faces smile and they say hello. I say hello to them, and they get really excited. And that’s the general feeling.
Paul: Sounds great.
salvador: He is. Of course, there are challenges. But I like challenges.
salvador: This is also a challenge. For some reason, I don’t like talking about me, and me, and me.
Paul: I thought not. We are almost done. What is your next big upcoming exhibition?
salvador: I’m going to work on the Dalí exhibition which opens next winter.
Paulm: Salvador Dali? Your namesake. Have you thought about growing a mustache like his?
salvador: As a designer, you can design using any medium. But really, that would just be bad design.
—Salvador Cruz, Senior Designer, Visual Design, with Paul Jones, Associate Director, Communications