Elizabeth Resnick on Graphic Advocacy at ADC

Next Tuesday, July 8th, ADC and Collins will present an exhibition of international posters from 2001-2012 that exemplify the medium’s capacity for affecting social change. Titled Graphic Advocacy’the traveling show is curated by Professor Elizabeth Resnick, Chair of the Graphic Design Department at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

The exhibition will feature more than 120 posters, on display in the ADC Gallery through August 13, 2014, that are in one way or another meant to change the world. Professor Resnick talked with ADC about how she selected the most powerful poster work from a decade that saw a dizzying array of political events, social movements, natural disasters, and other causes  all as the internet and digital technology was beginning to change design for good.

Were you conscious of September 11th as the beginning of a new era in poster design when choosing the period of focus for Graphic Advocacy?

After the horrific tragedy and events in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, I thought about the process of creating and disseminating posters in a different way. At the time of the attack, I was teaching my graphic design class at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. The two airplanes that crashed into the World Trade twin towers had originated from Boston’s Logan International Airport. Our college’s 13-story building and many tall buildings in and around the Boston area were immediately evacuated as government authorities tried desperately to piece together the puzzle of what had happened. Once at home, I sat with my family throughout that very long day watching the horrific images on television. In the first days after the crisis, I felt compelled to respond to this tragedy. I created a poster image, a memorial response using my digital software. I saved my image as a jpeg, and uploaded it to the AIGA website set up to accept visual responses.

T​he impact of this event throughout the world, and my ability to create a visual response that could be shared immediately with others, was another profound experience for me. I realized at once that a new paradigm for making and disseminating ‘posters’ arrived with the new millennium.

“Creative people in general, and designers specifically, aspire to have more meaning and more social impact in the work they do.​ Designers are realizing that they no longer need a client to create work.”

Many of the posters in the exhibit, such as Milton Glaser’s “I Love NY More Than Ever,” are the personal artistic responses of designers to events and causes, rather than being specifically commissioned pieces that must fulfill the guidelines of a brief. How do you think that freedom and spontaneity affects the end product and was that emotional response part of the criteria for inclusion for you?

As a creative person, a designer and also a design educator, I have always embraced—and encouraged my students to embrace—opportunities to add personal ‘voice’ to events that have great meaning to them and the people or community they care about. The poster work selected for this exhibition intrinsically reflects the designer’s ability to empathize with a situation or an issue.

What have you learned from traveling with the exhibit across the country and the world? 

Over the past several years, the concept Design Activism has taken root, not only in this country, but also within the global community. Creative people in general, and designers specifically, aspire to have more meaning and more social impact in the work they do.​ Designers are realizing that they no longer need a client to create work. This is huge. When I trained as a graphic designer in the late 1960s, the only viable avenue to practice graphic design was as an employee of a design studio, an advertising agency, a publisher, or an in-house design department within a company. Even if you ran your own design business, you always had a client. The work you did was to promote this client. Period. Luckily, the professional field has expanded, and within just a few decades, there is so much choice available to those who wish to practice within graphic design profession.

How long do you think the exhibition will continue to travel before you curate another show with a new focus? 

The exhibition will travel through 2016. I will be working on a new exhibition starting in the winter of 2014.

How did Brian Collins, Steven Heller, and Milton Glaser come to be involved with the show?

Brian Collins was my graphic design student ​at MassArt in the early 80s. He had a transferred from Parsons School of Design, and credits his MassArt experience for helping him set the course for his very successful design career. We have stayed in touch all these years. As the VP of the Art Director’s Club, Brian is the conduit between the ADC Gallery and the socio-political poster exhibitions I have organized starting with ‘Graphic Imperative: International Posters of Peace, Social Justice and The Environment 1965–2005‘ shown at the ADC Gallery in November 2007; ‘Graphic Intervention: International AIDS Awareness Posters 1985–2010‘ shown at the ADC Gallery in the summer of 2011, and now ‘Graphic Advocacy: International Posters for the Digital Age 2001–2012‘ now scheduled for the summer of 2014.

Steven Heller has served as a mentor and a very generous supporter of my curatorial efforts. Steven has written essays for both the ‘Graphic Imperative‘ and ‘Graphic Intervention‘ exhibition catalogs and websites, and he contributed the interview with me for the ‘Graphic Advocacy‘ catalog.

Milton Glaser, besides the penultimate role model for generations of designers (including myself), has also been a wonderful and generous supporter of my curatorial efforts: he contributed a poster to the ‘Graphic Imperative‘ exhibition and a poster to the ‘Graphic Advocacy‘ exhibition.

We are looking forward to hearing Professor Resnick in conversation with Steven Heller and Milton Glaser at the July 8th opening of ‘Graphic Advocacy.’ 

The opening reception is currently sold out, but be sure to stop by the ADC Gallery before August 13th to check out the exhibit!

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