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Featured Faculty: J. Seth Johnson

Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities and Distinguished Professor of Graphic Design, Seth Johnson is being recognized for his work on one of his recent films that was just nominated for an Emmy. Additionally, as Director of Longleaf Studios, he is working on contracting for Longleaf to do some promotional films for a national organization. With an MFA in Graphic Design from the University of Tennessee, Johnson is in his ninth year at JSU, where he started as a department head for Art and Design and has recently moved to join the dean’s office while still teaching in the Department of Art and Design.

His recent documentary, Building Birmingham: The Sloss Story, will premiere on Alabama Public Television on Jan. 19 at 8 p.m. The latest documentary from JSU’s Emmy-winning Longleaf Studios explores the story of Colonel Sloss and his descendants, who have continued to shape life in the “Magic City” to the present day. The official trailer for the documentary is available on YouTube. After the public release on Jan. 19, the full documentary will be available at

Tell us about your most recent Emmy-nominated film. What was your role?

Our most recent nomination was for Lagarde, Making Natural History. This film tells the story of John B. Lagarde and the creation of the Anniston Museum of Natural History. This film was nominated in the “documentary-historical” category in the Midsouth broadcast region chapter of the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences. In production of the film, I served as executive producer overseeing the entire production team, motion graphics designer and as an additional camera operator.

Tell us about the promotional films for Longleaf. What do you hope will be gained from this opportunity—for Longleaf as well as students and faculty who work with the company?

Longleaf Studios is finalizing the contract with a national education organization to produce three short films that tell the story of adult learners that have returned to college to finish undergraduate degree programs they never concluded earlier in life. We will get to travel to different locations and universities across the country to capture these stories, and I am excited for the opportunity this will provide to our film students. 

What courses are you currently teaching at JSU? Which is your favorite?

Last semester, I taught the Senior Capstone course for Art and Design. This semester, I am teaching a motion graphics course titled “Type in Motion” that has become one of my favorites. I’ve always enjoyed teaching this class because of the complexities of the software, but also the growth a student experiences from the beginning of the class to the end. 

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love wearing multiple hats. I’ll always have a love for sharing knowledge and experiences in the classroom, but I also love leading large-scale projects and seeing them to the end. Making documentary films is a prime example of this and why I love what we have been able to do with the Alabama Public Television partnership. Documentary film making combines all aspects of our college: history, creative writing, acting, filmmaking, art direction, motion graphics, cinematography, music composing, etc. I love working with all the varying talents it takes to make an award-winning film and when it all comes together, I get an immense sense of fulfillment. 

What is your favorite thing about our college?  

I love the mission of our college and advocating for the role of Arts and Humanities in higher education. We have so many talented faculty here, and I enjoy hearing about all their successes. Our students are equally as successful, and our faculty do a wonderful job of creating opportunities for them to showcase their talents.

Do you have any ongoing projects or academic activities you’d like to share?

Our next two documentaries we are producing for Alabama Public Television are on the Barber Motor Sports Museum and the lives of famous civil rights attorneys Fred Grey and Author Shores. I am excited to lead these films over the next year. For our college, I am leading the Kaleidoscope festival planning committee and look forward to working with all our departments to make this an engaging series that showcases the many talents and disciplines in our college. 

Do you have any notable achievements you wish to share?

My biggest achievement at JSU has been leading the team that won three Emmy awards for The Fire in Anniston, A Freedom Rider’s Story. 2022 was a big year!

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I love traveling and filming in new and unknown places, but that’s only secondary to being a dad to my children and a partner to my spouse. 

What advice would you give to a student of yours?

My most repeated advice lately to Art students is to find a work/life balance and learn how to schedule time for yourself but still committing to meeting deadlines. Burnout is a real thing that has destroyed many creative careers. I also can’t stress enough the importance of internships and the value of experiential learning opportunities. More times than not, these experiences open doors.

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