Two students smiling infront of their work.
Emmi Brunner and Evan Kosi, two digital design majors in CU Denver’s College of Arts & Media

Digital Design Major Gets CU Denver Students Out of the Classroom and Into a Gallery 

April 8, 2024

If you’re an aspiring artist or digital designer, you might expect it would take years to see your work displayed on the walls of a gallery in an international city. But, if you’re a student at CU Denver, that dream could become a reality while you’re still an undergraduate student.  

Just ask Emmi Brunner and Evan Kosi, two digital design majors in CU Denver’s College of Arts & Media (CAM). This year, they are both showcasing their work in the CU Denver Experience Gallery, an exhibition space in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Complex.  

Their designs are part of the “Time and Spaces: The Life of Eddie Henderson” immersive exhibition, which features pieces from or inspired by the famed jazz musician’s life, music, and career. Teams of students in the Motion Design II class—taught by Associate Professor Travis Vermilye and Professor Michelle Carpenter—created collaborative works influenced by Henderson’s music.  

And while it might seem like this opportunity is rare, at CU Denver’s CAM, students often gain real-world experiences that bolster their portfolio, expand their professional networks, and prepare them for career success—even before they’ve earned their diploma. It is exactly these types of catered experiences that made Brunner and Kosi choose CU Denver.  

Why CU Denver?

“I grew up being an artist, and there’s that idea of ‘the starving artist’ and that you’re never going to make it in the world being creative,” Brunner said. “But I truly feel like coming to CU Denver and doing the program that, wow, I can actually have a career—being creative—and doing something I love, which makes me excited for my future. I’m just going to be creative, and it’s not just going to be a hobby.” 

Emmi Brunner, Digital Design Major at CU Denver

Brunner is taking advantage of an accelerated track at CU Denver that allows her to prep for and work on her thesis simultaneously, which will help her graduate and start her career much sooner. “For my thesis, I’d love to create a product or build a brand…to showcase everything I’ve learned,” she said. The accelerated track also allows her to focus on securing an internship, which will be another valuable experience as she starts to look for jobs after graduation (she expects to graduate in spring 2025). 

Similarly, Kosi found a pathway to connect his interests and academics at CU Denver. Originally from the Denver metro area, Kosi initially left the state for college in hopes of finding the right opportunities in the art world. When the pandemic put a pause on in-person classes, he returned to his home state—and found exactly what he was looking for at CU Denver (he plans to graduate in spring 2026). “I fell in love immediately and knew this was the place for me,” he said. “I was just hit with the overwhelming sense of down-to-earthiness here…One thing that I think is really unique about the Denver art scene compared to other places is that a lot of people here do work and support work for the sake of loving art, not for progressing their own careers…It’s actually about the artwork, which is really refreshing.” 

Evan Kosi, Digital Design Major at CU Denver

Both students say that the Experience Gallery project is special but something they’ve come to expect (and appreciate) about their CU Denver experience. For this project—just one of several big projects during a Motion Design II course—students were asked to break into groups and select one of Eddie Henderson’s songs. Then, they sought to graphically represent the music composition with creative visuals. The teams collaborated on color palettes and imagery to fit each song’s theme, and then the individual designers created animation-style frames of their own to portray a cohesive project with unique attributes from each student. “It was really inspiring material to work with,” Kosi said.  

“We all chose different songs,” Brunner added. “The pieces are, of course, all very different from each other and everyone went in such a different direction. To see it all come together, to see the creativity spread amongst our cohorts? It’s so beautiful.” 

CU Denver’s Unique Galleries 

Andrew Palamara, the gallery coordinator, has spent a decade working at art museums and landed at CU Denver because of how the university’s galleries (a second space, the Emmanuel Art Gallery, is on campus) connect with students. “One of the things I really like about [these galleries] is that they elevate the student work because there are professional artists who are also showing in the same spaces.” 

In addition to opportunities to show their own art, CU Denver’s galleries employ students to work at the front desk and install exhibitions. That means that they are building their resume and portfolio at the same time. A student may walk into their first interview and be able to say that they helped instill more than a dozen exhibitions during their time at CU Denver, which adds value to their academic experience.  

The galleries also create a bridge between the art community, Denverites, and the campus. “Being in a city like this, you have the opportunity to not only be a part of things on campus that are really important but also to be a part of things that are off campus that can enhance your education,” Palamara said. “I feel very fortunate that we feel like we’re part of the art community in Denver.” 

Kosi agreed, adding that CU Denver’s resources have made a big difference. “I’ve had a lot of doors open up for me,” he said. “Another thing that has really stuck out to me is the level of quality of the educators is so high. They’re all really talented and they’re all really smart. And they help all of us get into stuff like this and a program at the MCA…I’ve gotten a lot of really practical, good experience from the program here.”