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News . Feature Stories . Student's banner effort helps brand district, build community


December 01, 2014

Student's banner effort helps brand district, build community

Senior Nolan Beck wins volunteer award from Campus District Incorporated

By Carolyn Jack

Some people burn their bridges when they get mad. Nolan Beck built some, instead.

The CIA senior – a graphic design major – has used his artistic skills to forge stronger connections to his neighbors and neighborhood through a community banner-making project aimed at beautifying a section of Cleveland’s Superior Avenue. The banners go up Saturday, Dec. 6.

Beck got involved after repeatedly finding his car broken into near his residence in the Superior Arts Quarter area of Cleveland’s Campus District, a part of town shared by students, creative professionals, businesses, social-service agencies and homeless persons living in shelters. He wasn’t happy about any of the thefts, but in spring of 2013, when a camera was stolen from the car’s glove box, Beck was distressed.

“I was upset about it, so I decided to go be mad at someone,” he explained in an email.

Not knowing where else to turn, he went with his friend, artist Derek Hess ’88, to a meeting hosted by the neighborhood community-development organization, Campus District, Inc. Getting to know CDI executive director Bobbi Reichtell at the gathering motivated Beck to get involved. Calling her “an amazing person and an inspiration,” he said, “Bobbi is good at turning negative energy into positive energy.”

A later meeting brought neighborhood residents and artists together to brainstorm about how the district could physically reflect the arts activity happening within its borders, Reichtell recalled. As a result, she said, Beck and Hess got the idea of working with shelter residents to create art banners that will decorate the Arts Quarter and promote its identity. After months of planning, Reichtell, Beck and others got together on Sept. 27 to paint images for the banners.

“It was a very fun experience,” Reichtell said.

Beck joined other volunteers, including Cleveland artist and former CIA director of continuing education Bill Jean, to work with residents from Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry's homeless shelter in Jean's studio, where they were encouraged to tell their own stories or reflect on their neighborhood through the pictures they painted.

Beck served as a team member and as a sort of art director, he explained. “My experiences at CIA helped me prepare for this project because I took typography and color classes that helped sharpen my design skills,” he wrote. “I also learned how to set up print-ready files so they could be sent to a vendor for fabrication.”

Beyond these professional design skills, said CIA faculty member Barbara Chira, Beck “also has excellent interpersonal and project-management skills. These are exactly the qualities that result in students like Nolan making a seamless transition after graduation."

Chira is an adjunct professor and the academic director of Cores + Connections, CIA's commitment to student engagement. "Earlier on, Nolan had told me about the banner and neighborhood identity project, probably because my studio is located in the Superior Arts Quarter," she said. "I was energized by his idea and commitment, and facilitated a meeting among Nolan, Bobbi, and a few of the long-time artists in the Quarter. This project is a perfect example of what artists - including art students - can bring to the community development planning table. I am very proud of Nolan's initiatives with his urban neighborhood partners.”

Reichtell and her colleagues at CDI are proud of Beck, too. At the organization’s annual meeting in November, CDI presented Beck and Jean with Outstanding Volunteer awards in recognition of their involvement with the banner project. CDI’s announcement of the award stated, “Nolan has worked over the past year and a half at improving neighbor relationships and building community ownership through artistic collaboration. His graphic design drove recruitment and funding efforts, without which Banner Up! could not have been a success."

The young artist has liked the collaboration and also the fact that the project has been truly local. “The people involved are all residents or artists that live and work in this district,” he said. “This project strengthened my relationship with my district, my CDC, and my city, as well as local business owners, residents, and artists that I hadn't met yet.”

Beck added. “That's invaluable.”

Above, Beck poses with his volunteer award at the CDI’s annual meeting. With him, left to right, are district leaders Wendy Hoke, vice president of marketing and communications, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center; Reichtell; and Byron White, vice president for university engagement, Cleveland State University. To watch a video about the project posted on CDI's Facebook page, click here.

Carolyn Jack is an author, critic and free-lance writer based in the New York area.

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CIA alumna Josette Galiano’s passion lies in exploring behavior and designing immersive experiences. Fittingly, she’s a consumer insights analyst at @NottinghamSpirk​ and a designer at Florette by Josette​.

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