We take for granted that high school students who are interested in art are getting the guidance they need. My own experience tells me otherwise. When I took art classes at a public high school in Goldsboro, North Carolina, in the late 1980s, I didn’t have much to choose from—there was Art I, Art II, Art III, and Art IV. Fortunately in college I was lucky enough to encounter a professor who introduced me to the idea of design, and I found my calling as an exhibition and graphic designer. Now I get to return the favor.
For a few fortunate students at the High School of Art and Design, in Manhattan, the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) partnered with the high school to start a mentoring program in 1992. Design professionals are paired with tenth through twelfth graders to provide expertise and guidance through the rest of the students’ tenure in school.
I joined the program in 2001 and met Steven Pitera in November of that year. Though trying to find common interests was awkward at first, we have persevered and the mentorship has turned into a fruitful relationship—especially over the last six months. In January more than 21 mentor-student pairs began the “I Am/We Are” project, in which the students designed interpretive self-portraits using any medium. Steven and I introduced to the group the idea of thought mapping to generate ideas, and when many of the students used the technique, Steven’s confidence grew. After numerous hours experimenting with a photocopier, scissors, and Adobe InDesign, he completed a series of four black-and-white posters, which he gladly plastered on the walls during critiques. But it wasn’t just Steven. All of the students brought energetic solutions to the project. Each of their portraits was made into a postcard and used as a promotion for an exhibition at the AIGA gallery in New York, from June 23 to July 2. (The project continues on www.iamtheproject.org.) By Steven’s account, the program is seeing some success. “I was unaware of what a graphic designer does,” he says. “But now I have a better understanding, because I designed my project and was also on the production crew for the poster and the gallery.”