3 Questions with Arun Jain
Urban designer and urban strategist Arun Jain on intense curiosity, dogged effort, and embracing depth
3 QUESTIONS is series of brief, three-question interviews with PNCA’s visiting artists and lecturers. Each year, PNCA attracts innovative, thoughtful, and creative makers and thinkers who share our belief in the transformative power of creativity. In three short answers to three short questions, these artists offer perspectives on career, motivation, and transformation. When available, we include links to audio recordings, transcripts, slideshows, or video.
PNCA’s President’s Office invited Arun Jain to help to shape PNCA’s future as a member of the Creative Leaders Council. The members of this council are creative thought leaders who have a demonstrated commitment to the value of art and design education.
“[The] world desperately needs more intervention, not more messages.”
What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?
I cannot speak from the perspective of knowing the arts from within. So, my best advice is to embrace the bigger context in which you feel the world could be better. Remember that creativity is not the privilege of only those who are formally trained in it.
Learning to see in new ways or expressing yourself uniquely is fine but it’s increasingly inadequate in a world desperately needing more intervention, not more messages. Leverage your skills by being willing to learn everything you need to know to make positive change happen. Embrace depth whenever needed – understand the value of technical skills and seek them out preemptively. If you don’t, those with better technical abilities and comprehension will embrace your creative realm and steal your place. Integrate, don’t be elitist, and don’t let yourself become marginal.
How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?
I care a lot about what I do and how I do it. I’ll often spend way more time than needed or even reasonable, just because I’m curious or determined to see if a particular idea will work. I’ve been dogged in ensuring all my involvements have meaning (to myself and to others). And yes, there is much to learn from failed efforts, but to do this well you have to be honest and introspective about your motivations from the start.
If you can’t put your brain, your heart, and your soul into what you do, then don’t do it. I’ve managed to stay intensely curious and interested in a lot. This approach has taken me amazing places I could not have imagined. That’s the best kind of encouragement of all.
Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?
No, because I only have a string of evolutionary pivots – the kind we all have. My best ones have become new and exciting explorations. The tough ones don’t always make immediate sense, but I always strive to learn from them. Sometimes it’s the thrill of revelation, other times simply the deep and quiet satisfaction of comprehension eventually settles in. The best I can tell you is to remain open, curious, excitable, and never think you know enough. As my good old dad always said, “be the best you can be, then let life take its course.”
ARUN JAIN is is an urban designer and an urban strategist with over 27 years of international experience in practice and academia. After last serving as Portland’s first Chief Urban Designer, he now works with foundations, institutions, development companies, public agencies, universities and others to improve cities and urban life. Jain helps clients accommodate uncertain futures rather than predict them. This means helping develop more resilient project approaches, identifying emergent urban design issues, and strategically repositioning design, development and planning companies to ensure continued professional relevancy and viability. He is currently a member of PNCA’s Creative Leaders Council.