OC alumna helping produce Olympic ceremonies

OC alumna Jennifer Ma is the chief designer of visual and special effects for the opening and closing ceremonies at this year’s Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Click here to view photos from the ceremonies.
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Every four years, the world comes together for the Summer Olympics.

Billions of people tune in to watch the opening ceremonies – the parade of countries, the lighting of the torch and, at this year’s games, the work of a former OC art student.

Alumna Jennifer Ma (93) is the chief designer of visual and special effects for the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, which begin this week in Beijing, China. She is part of the seven-person core creative team that worked to put together events that will be seen by an estimated four billion people worldwide.

“The Olympics are the biggest public event we have. There is a lot of collaboration and thinking strategically with other artists to enrich the production and make it bigger and better,” Jennifer said. “The bottom line is to showcase the innovation of the Chinese people. Everyone wants to project a very modern image – one that will stun the world.”

For Jennifer, the Olympics are more than an incredible opportunity; it’s a homecoming. She was born in Beijing before moving to Oklahoma as a 13-year-old. She struggled with the language difference at first, and found her voice in art.

She chose OC to pursue her newfound passion because it was a Christian school close to her new home, and because the art and design program was renowned for its quality. She majored in advertising design, but a painting class her freshman year sparked her interest in fine art.

That epiphany led to a career that has taken her to many of the world’s major contemporary art museums, like the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Tate Modern in London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Her projects have been featured in Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal and other mainstream and industry and publications.

Her primary focus is her job as studio director for Cai Guo-Qiang’s studio in New York City. The studio serves as organizer and curator for numerous exhibits, and works on projects with international prestige.

“I’m doing more than I ever anticipated. Without OC, I wouldn’t be doing this. It laid great foundations for my career,” Jennifer said. “Even my advertising design classes taught me so many things I could use in fine art.”

Perhaps the biggest lesson was the dedication you need to pursue an art career. Jennifer says OC benefits from the tough love of Art and Design chair Michael O’Keefe and the disciplined fun of Professor David Crismon, both successful professionals in their own right.

“O’Keefe cracks the whip. He’s very determined to only let the best and the most determined students stay in the program,” Jennifer said. “Crismon will give you freedom to do your own thing, but he doesn’t play around when it’s time to go into the studio. They’re both extremely driven and very good examples of hard-working people.”

Jennifer says a successful art career is a combination of opportunity, hard work and inspiration – “If you’re not ready; if you don’t have artwork that’s strong, then all the luck in the world won’t do you any good.”

OC gets you ready, and if you’re able to stick with it, Jennifer says the payoff is worth it.

“Creating and making things is the best thing in the world. It’s a process where you get to know yourself more,” Jennifer said. “Sometimes it’s very intimate by yourself in the studio. Sometimes it’s very collaborative. But in the end, the projects that are very challenging and that teach you the most are the most fun.”