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Robert Fishbone '74 'Screams' About His Life-Changing Antioch College Experiences

by Christian Feuerstein '94

Robert FishboneIn the mid-90s, the Inflatable Scream Doll - a blow-up doll that looks like the most famous painting in Edvard Munch's expressionist series "The Scream" - was everywhere: on TV, in museum gift shops, in catalogs, and even in the Antioch College bookstore. Robert Fishbone '74 is the co-owner of On the Wall Productions, maker of the Inflatable Scream. A presenter and public speaker, Fishbone recently published Selling the Scream, his saga of starting a business, learning the ropes one mistake after another, and growing a successful company known worldwide for edgy products and excellent customer service.

About his current projects: Since I graduated from Antioch in 1974, I've been and artist and a serial entrepreneur.  Sarah and I started painting murals soon after we arrived in St. Louis and became quite successful and well known in that field. In the mid-to-late 80s I spent a lot of time performing music, and then, in 1991, needing to make more money because we had two kids, I invented the Inflatable Scream, and about 150 other art and music related products that I sold successfully in 20 countries. Four years ago, I sold part of that business so I could pursue performing once again-music and storytelling. But then I decided to enter the world of professional speaking, and do it in my own way, as a performer. So this is what I do now, motivate and inspire audiences at universities, arts organizations and businesses to look at things in new creative ways and become successful with their crazy ideas...  In fact, the beginning of my keynote speech is all about Antioch College, and how it laid the groundwork for the manner in which I, and Sarah, move through life and the world.

Oh yeah, I also recently wrote a book about my 35 years on the bumpy path and roller coaster ride of the entrepreneur. I'm having a great time.

What brought you to Antioch College? What was your major? When I was in high school, I was really into science and math. I [was] ask[ed], "You want to go to MIT?"  My girlfriend at the time suggested I apply to Antioch, which I of course had never heard of. When my senior-year English teacher asked me what colleges I was applying to, I mentioned MIT, NYU  and Antioch-at which point her eyes lit up, she grabbed my arm and excitedly said, "Oh Robert, you should go to Antioch!"

I was frankly impressed that she even knew my name because I was so terrible in that class. So I became really curious about this place, and decided to give the application my best shot. I got in without ever visiting, and decided to go-one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. ... I started as a biochemistry major, and was the only first-year student in my organic chemistry class.  I made it through Organic Chemistry 1, actually had a co-op at MIT where I had a life-changing experience and changed majors.

What's your favorite memory of being at Antioch? It's hard to pick out one favorite memory of being at Antioch, because it was such a watershed for me-so many things of my life before Antioch fell away to reveal my true self ... I wasn't a scientist at heart, I'm an artist. So maybe one memory that really stands out was a multimedia event that three friends and I put together which took place on back campus by the geodesic dome. We built a giant kinetic sculpture, had a huge inflatable that people could crawl through and have various senses stimulated, we had dancers and music and everyone was in the right frame of mind... We all had a blast.

Oh yeah, then there was the time that I performed with Peter Ekstrom and quite a few other people in Peter's concert at Chillicothe State Penitentiary. I guess it should be noted that Peter did the show in drag as Aurora Borealis, and Sarah [Linquist] was one of the Stardust Dancers, and Michael Fajan's did amazing magic tricks, and the inmates were in heaven.

But the most important moment was when I went to meet my friend Zeke MacDonald in his video class (before I started taking it); I went into the room where the class had just ended and everyone was moving around. While looking for Zeke the crowd parted in half for just a moment revealing Sarah Linquist in her fringe leather jacket on the other side of the room...We've been together ever since and have two great kids in college.

Was there a professor that made a huge impact on your life? Once I switch[ed] to the art department, I had several professors or teachers that were very influential: Cal Sparks, who taught photography, and certainly Bob Devine, who is my video teacher. But I really want to honor Michael Fajan, who taught art fundamentals. The purpose of that class wasn't to learn how to draw or paint or sculpt or dance or write, the purpose of that class was loosening your brain. I was already well on the way and Michael helped to validate me as an artist. But not any artist, it was the artist that I would become. Michael did crazy wild stuff, from giant dance events to mural painting. In fact, Sarah and I would never have become mural painters in St. Louis  if Michael hadn't paved the way with the amazing projects he created through Public Works Construction Company.

Any thoughts about coming out for Reunion June 17-20 in Yellow Springs, OH? I have it on my calendar to come to reunion.

Any stirring words of wisdom about the independence of Antioch College? What are your thoughts about the curriculum plan that was presented in St. Louis? I think it is fantastic and about time that Antioch broke away from the burden of the University to pay its own way again as a liberal arts college; enough said about that. I like the curriculum plan that was presented, something that is year-round and can be completed in three years. It still relies heavily on the co-op program, which is perhaps the most essential part of being at Antioch. ... Once the three of them started speaking, they began to conjure the essence of what we all remembered as Antioch.

If you could bring one thing to the future of Antioch College, what would it be? I hope to be able in my skills as a visiting speaker and workshop leader, perhaps as a performing artist to Antioch College. My life has been so enriched by what I started there, is only fitting that I give back what I can.

Why do you donate to Antioch College? I donate to Antioch ... because it's an incredible place that is worthy of a new and long life.