Go back

Art + Design Distinguished Alumni

Starting in 2019, the Department of Art + Design, in collaboration with the College of Arts & Letters, began selecting one alumnus to be awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award. Recipients are chosen to recognize their individual achievements, contributions to their fields, service to their community, and loyalty to Austin Peay State University.


2023 - Rusty Mitchell (1997)

Rusty Mitchell 2023 Austin Peay State University Department of Art + Design Distinguished Alumni

Rusty Mitchell earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in art with a concentration in graphic design from APSU in 1997 and a Master of Fine Arts in visual communication from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2001. 


Mitchell is the vice president of design for Mercury Intermedia. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Mercury provides application strategy, design and development for iOS, Android and connected devices. 


At Mercury, Mitchell leads a team of designers in product strategy and design and participates in business planning and direction. He has over 20 years of design experience and spent several years as an art director and music packaging designer before shifting focus to application design. 


While at Mercury, he helped brands such as TED Talks, Panasonic, USA Today, The New York Times, CNN and countless others succeed in the mobile app space. Apps he has directed and designed have been used by millions — a couple were even parodied on “The Daily Show” and “Futurama.” Mercury apps have garnered awards and recognition from Communication Arts, The Webby Awards, Ad Age and more while receiving promotion and praise from Apple and Google. He has also contributed interviews for Josh Clark’s book “Tapworthy” about designing great iPhone apps, as well as Suzanne Ginsburg’s book “Designing the iPhone User Experience.” 

2022 - Kim Radford (2002, 2007)

Kim Radford APSU Art + Design AlumniKim Radford, a Nashville painter and muralist, graduated from Austin Peay in 2002 with a BFA in Studio Art. About her time at APSU Kim says: "My studio professors still live in my mind to this day! Their passion, feedback, encouragement, and constructive criticism is still sharpening me and practice today."

From the Brand Wise Collective: Radford is creating quite a large following for her spectacular artworks like the Dolly Parton, Of Course Black Lives Matter mural located in East Nashville. Among her artistic murals is a Dragon image commissioned by Americana Band Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors to commemorate the title track from their album Dragons.  Her works are popping up all over the South with her unique pop art flair.

Radford loves familiar things done large. Kim has a mission to make public art that is inviting – art that people can touch, stand next to, take photos, take videos and even promote themselves with it.  Radford got started with mural art when she was at APSU earning her Bachelor of Fine Art degree. From painting Cinderella for a child’s room, her art took off moving from homes to small businesses to big businesses. You can read more about Radford on her website and you can find her on Instagram @kimradfordartist.

2021 - Chris Downes (1996)

Chris Downes Art + Design Distinguished AlumniChristopher Downes received his Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from APSU in 1996, but his career actually started before he graduated. From 1993 to 1996, he was the editorial cartoonist for APSU’s very own newspaper, The All State. He even won First Place for Best Editorial Cartoon at the 1996 Southeast Journalism Conference for his cartoon on The Million Man March.

After graduating, Christopher lived and worked as a graphic designer in Galway, Ireland - where he developed a fondness for living overseas. In 2000, he moved to Australia to attend the University of Tasmania’s School of Art where he received a Masters of Fine Art and Design.

Christopher has since worked as a freelance illustrator with clients like The Museum of Australian Democracy, LORE podcast, The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, and Crinkling News, a newspaper made just for kids. In 2021, he wrote and illustrated Mona’s Ark, a children’s book published by the world-renowned art museum, Mona (The Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart.

He has also worked for over 10 years as an editorial cartoonist for The Mercury, Tasmania’s main newspaper. During that time, he’s drawn cartoons on everything from local forestry debates to federal issues like marriage equality and Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. In 2015 Christopher was awarded the Stanley Award for Best Editorial/Political Cartoonist by the Australian Cartoonists Association and in 2020 the NRMA Kennedy Award for Outstanding Illustration.

Christopher lives in Hobart, Tasmania with his wife and daughter. In the past 21 years, he’s adapted pretty well to living in Australia. He knows most of the slang, uses the metric system, and only very rarely drives on the wrong side of the road.
View some of Christopher's work here

2020 - Mike Andrews (1985)

Mike Andrews Art + Design Distinguished AlumniMike Andrews is a sculptor, art educator and family man.  Mike took his first sculpture class at age eight at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas and it had a profound influence on his future career path.  When it came time to choose a college, his father’s military career brought him to Clarksville, and with that came Mike’s association with Austin Peat State University and Professor Olen Bryant.  Mike worked with Olen Bryant as a student for five years from 1980-1985, and as Bryant’s studio assistant from 1982 to 1992.  Andrews fondly recalls, “Olen became more than a teacher for me he was part of my family my son Michael worked for him the last 10 plus years of his life and he treated my daughter Sarah and youngest son Josh like they were part of his family. Elaine my wife and I miss him greatly and feel blessed to have known such a kind and gentle soul. He truly is a Tennessee treasure.”i 

Mike Andrews is a similar kind, gentle soul who is also treasured by many of the colleagues who have worked with him over the years.  Christopher Jarrell, current art teacher at Montgomery Central High School, recalls, “Mike was the perfect mentor for a new teacher.  Steady, calm and nurturing.  He would even invite me to his home on parent-teacher conference nights for a meal because he knew I lived quite a distance from Central.”  Mike began his teaching career at Montgomery Central Elementary School in 1992 and taught there for six year before moving to Montgomery Central High School in 1998.  In 2015, when the last of his elementary students had graduated from MCHS, Mike returned to Montgomery Central Elementary.  

Mike is a dedicated teacher and artist and has received a number of awards over the years including the Teacher of the Year Montgomery Central Elementary School (2019), Tennessee Teacher of the Year Award in the Humanities (2013), the Helping Hands Award (2014), and the Artist of the Year Ovation Award (2014) from the Center for Excellence in the Creative Arts at Austin Peay State University.  Mike has had two one-man shows at the Customs House Museum in Clarksville, TN in 2013 and 2019.  His work has been exhibited throughout the region and is represented in private collections from California to Washington DC and abroad. His sculptures can be found in collections throughout Tennessee including Vanderbilt University, the White House Public Library, the Nashville International Airport, Austin Peay State University, and The Ronald McDonald House. 

2019 - Lorilee Rager (2001)

Lorilee Rager Art + Design Distinguished AlumniLorilee is the founder of Thrive Creative Group, LLC. She earned her Master’s degree in Graphic Design at Vermont College of Fine Arts, in Montpelier, Vermont, and her undergrad Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She is also a Visiting Assistant Professor of Design and active alumnus in the Art and Design department today at APSU, and regularly attends workshops with her cherished VCFA cohorts and advisors to learn and research more about the true history of Graphic Design.

She also hosts her own Podcast Ground And Gratitude where her passion lies in understanding the pressures and responsibility of Graphic Designers to the world, and how to build a safe space where a creative career and life can align honestly and authentically. As an HSP and Enneagram Type 9 she’s a creative, optimistic, and supportive leader. Lorilee’s also a writer and mom to two super great boys. As well as a lover of her sobriety, bulldog, coffee, and chapstick.