Desmond Blair BA’07, MFA’09 received the 2017 Undergraduate Alumni Achievement Award in the spring. Raised in the Pleasant Grove area of Dallas, Desmond is an acclaimed visual artist who was born with a limb difference — he never uses the term “disability.” His works — primarily portraits in oils on canvas — have helped raise more than $20,000 for local charitable organizations. The importance of education was emphasized in Desmond’s life from day one, when his mother’s doctor urged her to give him the best education possible. “She did just that throughout my public school years,” he said, “by finding various academic and arts programs.”
Desmond graduated from Skyline High School in Dallas at age 16, and the challenge became finding a college that would enable him to excel and would be affordable for his single-parent family. “I got accepted to several out-of-state arts schools, but we couldn’t afford the tuition,” he said. Around this time, Desmond learned of the program that eventually became the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC) at UTD. “Everything I needed or wanted to study was right here in DFW,” he said.
Desmond credits his alma mater with more than leveling the playing field for someone with a limb difference — it gave him an edge in achieving his goals. “Having a group of really sharp peers combined with exceptional professors forced me to continuously push myself to new levels. I got the best education my mom could give me.”
Through the ATEC program, Desmond honed traditional-art abilities and transferred them to digital media. After a period as an ATEC adjunct teaching 3-D modeling, Desmond now works in the IT department for the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, where he was once a patient. “My time at UTD was just as much about learning life lessons as it was about education,” Desmond said. “Time management, prioritizing responsibilities, helping others and volunteering, and learning to adapt and do basic things most people with all of their limbs overlook — I learned all of these things at UTD.”
He participated in a charity art auction for Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in 2011, an occasion Desmond says changed how he viewed his artistic pursuits. “My first showing helped me get serious about my painting and using it to support causes that help others,” he said. “Since then, I’ve helped raise money for a variety of causes, from art education to cancer research.”
Desmond notes several faculty and staff members in particular, including Dr. Marjorie Zielke in ATEC, who set him on the path to his career as a project manager. “My time at UTD will always be cherished,” he said.