That’s a Wrap: Looking Back at 2008

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January 5, 2009

When the first A.D. signals the end of production on set with a triumphant “that’s a wrap folks!”, one can sense the very last, exhilarating peak of energy sweep through the cast and crew, with echoing cheers, smiles, and the collective satisfaction of a large job just completed. A frequent visitor to my husband’s sets, this is somehow the image of closure that my mind conjures up as I look back at 2008 and muse over the intensity and diversity of Designmatters projects that culminated this past year.

Since the inception of the program, an important pedagogical goal has been to create opportunities for field research and cross-cultural experiences for Art Center students and faculty. So it was quite rewarding to weave this objective successfully in ‘08 through several of the project collaborations we undertook and a few of the travel enrichment opportunities that came about. Students were embedded for short periods of time in far-flung locations such as Suriname, Guyana and the Philippines to accomplish critical research on the UNICEF projectSharing Digital Stories in the Developing World. Closer to home they gained invaluable insight from their first-hand work with communities and staff of Project Concern International in Tijuana. Our students’ presence at the first university student gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative held in New Orleans, at the extraordinary four-week immersion in innovation for social good led by MIT’s Amy Smith during the second International Development Design Summit held in Cambridge, and at the international summer school initiative “TransLocalMotion,” hosted by the Tongji University of Architecture and Design in Shanghai, China, are a handful of highlights about the depth and breadth of the contributions facilitated by the program.

Throughout the year, there were many occasions where Art Center’s “trans-disciplinary” educational model was supported by the scholarship of experts and practitioners in a wide range of subjects whom Designmatters brought in or consulted with. This is what we would call applied research in action, and I am grateful for the guest faculty that have helped us turn media headlines about the global water crisis, medical care in developing world conditions, human rights violations, gang violence, earthquake preparedness, and women’s rights, into solid research directions and tangible examples that were a key foundation to our design process.

This year was also – more than any year before – one where we saw heightened public outreach and recognition thanks to a series of publications, articles, exhibitions, and events, and through a few key presentations at international conferences and forums, as well as public awareness campaigns disseminated through our partners. I think back to the thrill of first learning about Film alumnus Jonas Mayabb’s Emmy award for his provocative take on climate change (Blowing Smoke); to the joy of finding out that Images Speak, a small book chronicling the Illustration Department’s contributions to the Mpala Project was a recipient of a Spark Award; to the pride of hanging a show of student posters celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration in the hallways of the very same building at UNESCO in Paris where the Declaration was signed; to the kick of getting amazing media coverage for The Los Angeles Earthquake: Get Ready on international and national outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine; to the awe of being a small part of the communication and public policy effort that mobilized more than five million Southern Californians to duck, cover and hold on in a drill for the inevitable quake in our future

I tell myself, wow, this is indeed quite a successful wrap, after twelve months of very hard work, and a cumulative and collective effort carried forth by so many around me. And then I am reminded of the less public – and yet deeply consequential – moments from the last year; finding in my inbox a snapshot of Mpala counselors in action with our students’ public education materials deployed in the field; hearing from the local chapter of the American Cancer Society of the success of the Realitychecknow campaign directed at youth; learning that a PSA for maternal mortality (When Mother Died, the Family Fell Apart) reached the UNFPA office and a popluation in such dire need in Afghanistan, via diplomatic valise; tracking the steadily growing number of former students and Designmatters Fellows that are finding new job opportunities in development agencies where they are designing smart, beautiful, and effective campaigns that are having such a positive and transformative impact in people’s lives.

It is time now to look ahead to 2009 and to the collaborations and design outcomes it may spawn. I can’t wait to drive new projects forward, and continue nurturing old ones, hand in hand with my colleagues and our partners. And maybe I will come to terms with the fact that when you find yourself at the heart of an educational process with such a bold social ambition, you really never wrap after all!

(posters by Art Center Graphic Design alumnus William Ismael for UNESCO)