Blair High School + Art Center College of Design

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February 10, 2015

In the following blog post, Ashley Pinnick (ILL + Designmatters Concentration)  discusses the leadership exchange program between Pasadena’s Blair High School and Art Center, which she helped initiate with fellow Art Center students: Cassie Zhang, D’Angelo & Martel McCornell, Tom Eichackerand and Vanessa Shabahazedeh with guidance from faculty member Esther Pearl Watson.

Ashley is a graphic designer and illustrator infatuated with science, information, and technology.  She’s also a collector, an amateur comics historian; a free jazz, punk & synthwave lover, research vampire, urban explorer and pinball obsesso. To learn more about Ashley and her work, click here and here.

Blair Highschool + Art Center College of Design_12Over the course of the Fall 2014 term, I had the privilege of being one of the students who forged a connection between Art Center and Blair High School as a student mentor. Being a Designmatters Concentration student, it was a great opportunity for me to be thrust into a position where I could make a positive impact somewhere just down the street from Art Center’s South Campus.

It began as a simple thought that my dear friend Cassie Zhang had early on in our Summer break. She wanted to learn about grant writing for artists. I was lucky enough to join the conversation and begin planning something that we would create as students, by way of us working with our ever-supportive instructor, Esther Pearl Watson. We were quickly introduced to Amy Shimshon-Santo who helped us identify the opportunity to hit the ground running by building a partnership with Blair High from the ground up. Before we knew it, Cassie and I had also met the members of Unity (The Next Level Brothers, D’Angelo & Martel McCornell, and Vanessa Shabahazedeh), and Blair’s wonderful Art Teacher, Vilma Martinez. We even began recruiting our friends, including fellow Illustration major Tom Eichacker.

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The seven of us held weekly meetings where we discussed how to approach teaching and what Ms. Martinez felt was missing from what was happening at Blair’s Art Club. Together we planned a series of workshops that each of us would teach during our weekly visits. We each tried to identify our strengths and cultivate something that we could help embolden the Art Club students with. Each of us honed in on a concept or skill we thought we could teach over a week or more. Our ideas ranged from puppet shows about the role technology has in our lives, shooting a documentary about their lives, to giving students a crash course in typography and layout design. However, once we had our first few sessions, it became clear that what we had planned wasn’t really the best approach. It was clear that rather than bringing something to the students that they may not want to learn about or participate in, that it would be better to respond to their needs directly.

This first lesson solidified the adage of user-oriented design and social impact at large. It reminded me of what I’ve been told before: creating a complex series of conceptual outcomes is great on paper, but if that’s not what the people need then you should probably find a new solution. We decided to instead pare down the workshops to quick, bite-sized exercises that taught a simple concept. We also discovered that it was better to use the rest of the time focusing on helping the Art Club students create a great piece of work that they could be proud of. It quickly became a more enjoyable weekly experience for all of us involved. Each week we brought a different concept in during the first portion of class. We showed students how to create expressive typography, use cameras and film each other as directors, create editorial illustrations and how to not be too precious with their work.

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Working with young artists yielded many surprises along the way. Some of them were laughable, like a table of young girls asking me if they could set their work on fire, to seeing firsthand how hard artists of all ages are on themselves. Each week I saw talented students second guess themselves, laboring over making the “perfect” drawing, when it was already great. It was the thinking that made it great…but they didn’t even know it yet. It was surreal to have the tables turned on me and to find myself telling students that what they had was already wonderful. If anyone had said that to me at that age, I surely wouldn’t have believed them. I saw myself in some of the students in that way. I never knew I could identify anything like that until that day.

As the end of the term reared its head, we envisioned a culmination event that would showcase the students’ best work by creating a sort-of pop up opening in their honor. The last few weeks were a mad dash. Ms. Martinez worked tirelessly to get the students’ work finished on time and in great shape, with us focusing on preparing the students’ work for professional presentation. We supplemented their work with some of our own, including a short documentary by The Next Level Brothers, composed of the shots that Blair students took while participating in our film workshop. We were privileged to be visited by a number of our students, their parents and family, and have the opportunity to speak to them about how meaningful this partnership has been for all of us.

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For me, it was amazing to see students feel proud of what they made and to see the next generation of great creative thinkers at work. The challenge of building this connection was certainly worth it, and I feel lucky to have been able to work with such bright and hilarious kids. We are working to continue building a connection between Art Center and Blair High School, through mentoring and giving students a sneak peek at what college can look like. No matter how we end up working together, I can’t wait to see what the students will do next.

“For me, it was amazing to see students feel proud of what they made and to see the next generation of great creative thinkers at work.”- Ashley Pinnick, Student, Illustration Department