Barry Whittaker

Barry Whittaker

Assistant Professor of Art / Maker and Doer of Things

February 6, 2013


University of Toledo


Assistant Professor of Art Barry Whittaker wasn't born in Toledo, but we're lucky to have him teaching at the University of Toledo these days. His passion for all things creative, including photography, music, video and graphic design has lead to some exciting solo and collaborative projects both here and abroad. We caught up with Barry to discuss his work and thoughts on Toledo's creative landscape. Barry will be part of a regional exhibit, First Contact, at Ann Arbor's Gallery Project from February 14- March 24.

Tell us more about some of your past projects?
In the past I’ve worked with photography, video, music, and graphic design. Each of these still influences my work, but my current focus is on collaborative projects and interactive installations.

What current projects are you working on?
For the last couple of years I have been working with Sam Sheffield, from Baltimore, on a series of interactive works under the name SaBa (  We recently finished a motion capture-based video project, which was exhibited in Japan and Indonesia. Since then, I am have been catching up on small, code-based experiments and a bit of 3D. I also frequently find ways to distract myself with reading or music experiments when I should be working on something else. 

What advantages does being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offer your efforts?
Toledo has a great sense of community. Since my arrival here, I have been impressed by the level of involvement in community and creative projects in the city. Also, Toledo has such an excellent collection of impressive architecture. Working in a Frank Gehry building, across the street from another by SANAA, and next door to the Toledo Museum of Art, I only have to walk out the door to find inspiration. It is also nice to be a short drive from Detroit, Ann Arbor, and not so far from Chicago.

Tell us about one of your greatest successes.
This question reminds me of a quote from Albert Einstein: 
“Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.”

Tell us who or what gives you inspiration?
I find inspiration in many things. Music, philosophy, and design are big influences. I also enjoy researching other artists. I am most impressed with those who don’t take themselves, or anyone else too seriously. These are the creative people who master a skill, then have fun with it without becoming overly self-important. Luckily, there are a number of them across many disciplines. A few examples are Roman Signer, Stephan Sagmeister, William Pope L., Kuniyoshi Utagawa, Bjork, and Monty Python.

Tell us about your background.
I was born in Dallas, Texas, earned my BFA from the University of Texas, in Austin and my MFA from the University of Colorado, in Boulder. I’ve also lived in many other places (West Coast, East Coast, Europe, and Asia). As a consequence, I frequently feel like I’m from many places rather than just one. 

Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by?

“If you can, help others; if you cannot do that at least do not harm them.”
— Dalai Lama

Favorite place for local culture?
The Toledo Museum of Art.

Toledo’s “best kept secret” is . . .
The University of Toledo Art Department.

My favorite place to chill locally is . . .
Black Kite Coffee.

My favorite natural space in the Toledo area is . . .
I enjoy walking my dog at Wildwood Metropark and riding my bike at the Wabash Cannonball trail.

When I’m not working hard, I can always be found at . . .
At home, distracting myself from working hard by reading or making something.

If you could change anything about the current landscape for creative, progressive people . . .
I would want politicians to recognize the value of the arts as a key factor in economic development. The culture generated by a creative population plays an essential role in transforming any troubled area into a vibrant, attractive community. This has been proven repeatedly in cities in across the U.S. and throughout the world. Somehow lawmakers, among others, seem to have forgotten, or possibly never learned this. I’m guessing many of these people never had the benefit of taking art or music classes.

Any exciting collaborations (past or present) you would like to tell us about?
As mentioned above, I collaborate quite a bit with Sam Sheffield under the name of SaBa. We have begun playing with a few ideas and hope to have more to exhibit in the upcoming months. I have also worked quite a bit with Mike Bernhardt and Don Fodness, both from the Boulder/Denver area. There has been a bit of discussion about doing something again with these two. Whatever develops is sure to be interesting. 

Name one person (living or deceased) who you would love to collaborate with.
Daito Manabe


Name a CD, book or website you can’t live without.
The Tao Te Ching.

3 words that best describe me or my work are . . .

Give us 5 Desert Island Album picks.
This is always an impossible list for me. I love too many things to ever be able to give any definitive answer on this. This is my list today. Tomorrow it might be different:
Flaming Lips - Soft Bulletin
Steve Martin - Let’s Get Small
Radiohead - Kid A
Bill Withers - Still Bill
Stevie Wonder - Talking Book

My biggest vice is . . .

I’d like to see __________ in Toledo.
    •    a dog park
    •    more bicycle lanes around the city
    •    an inexpensive regional rail service
    •    flying saucers

What’s the last dream you recall having?
Not long ago, I dreamt completely in Japanese. I seem to be able to dream in Japanese far better than I can speak it.

The last lyric that moved me was . . .
Anything written by James Mercer of The Shins.

One movie character I identify with is . . .

The best gift I’ve ever received was . . .
It would probably have to be my first guitar. That was the beginning of many years where I had convinced myself I wanted to be a Rock Star.

My most inspiring moment was/is . . .
I have many, but I would say either swimming with dolphins or hiking through the forest near Mt. Fuji were both pretty great.

I want my last meal to be _______________.
Vegan Shojin Ryori when I’m 100 years old.


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