Art Heroes: Creating for Causes

art-heroes

This post originally appeared on the Creative Cloud blog.

The brainchild and passion-project of Adobe Education Leader Kevin McMahon, Art Heroes connects high school- and college-level design students with nonprofit organizations in need of free design work.

Kevin, who teaches digital media at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Calif., had contemplated the Art Heroes concept for years. But a critical push came in late 2013 after he was diagnosed with ITP, a rare blood disorder: “While the level of my condition turned out to be benign, at the time it was unclear how serious it was. It really made me take stock of my life. I thought, ‘If this is it, how can I use my time to make the greatest impact?’”

As a starting point, Kevin approached a handful of local nonprofits to gauge their interest in receiving free design work. At the same time, he contacted fellow Adobe Education Leaders to discuss his idea of helping students get real-world work experience by designing for good causes. Their responses were overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

By the summer of 2014, Art Heroes was a reality.

Three months later, more than 100 educators worldwide had signed up. And, once the nonprofit community got the message that design students were “ready and waiting,” requests for design work began pouring in.

The value of experience

Schools increasingly want to teach students global citizenship and the value of contributing to society.  “But,” said Kevin, “you never want to force volunteers. To create the best work, a designer’s heart has to be in it.”

So he made the Art Heroes process voluntary and student-centric.

Nonprofits post creative jobs on the site’s job board. When a student finds a good match, Kevin introduces student and client over email. Students under eighteen, and many of them are, communicate with Kevin and the client through their instructors (who also provide mentoring until the jobs are done).

In the end, nonprofits get free design work, students have real client projects for their portfolios, and educators have imparted valuable experience and life lessons.

Just one problem … summer break

School breaks give Kevin time to focus on administrative tasks and making improvements to the Art Heroes program. They also present a timing challenge. “At the start of May, we had over 30 projects on the job board. We had to game it a bit and stop accepting new submissions at just the right time so we could focus on getting the existing jobs done before students went on break.”

As it turned out, some much-needed help came in the form of an email from Gareth Wright, a professional designer who wanted to volunteer his time. “At first it put me in a odd spot. I didn’t want to take jobs away from students. But at the same time, I really didn’t want to risk letting-down a good cause with an impending deadline.”

So Kevin said yes.

Art Heroes now allows practicing designers to pick up pro bono work. Students will always get first crack but if a job goes unselected for more than two weeks, it’s up for grabs on the Art Heroes Pros job board.

Always an educator

Kevin realizes that Art Heroes will eventually need to sustain itself… beyond fundraising. “It’s a really tough game to continually ask people for money; there are so many worthy causes—many of them the same causes we help.”

In response, he came up with a solution.

Art Heroes Academy, a peer-reviewed design resource, that begins with design fundamentals and ends with handing students their first real design client. “Adobe applications are built on underlying design concepts like line, shape, color… so it’s incredibly empowering when there’s an understanding of the tools and the concepts that inform design decisions.”

The Art Heroes Academy will eventually include an ebook and a video series, but it’s Operation: FREE Art Education Posters, that’s currently the subject of a crowd-funding campaign.

Designed in collaboration with his Adobe Education Leader colleagues, the 9-poster series explains more than 80 design terms and concepts that students typically learn their first semester of art school. Kevin’s goal is to print and send the poster sets (free) to 100 design educators.

A lighter load. A better outcome.

In its first year, Art Heroes finished 70 design jobs (and saved nonprofits over $100,000). With those numbers expected to grow, Kevin knows that he will eventually need help, “I’ve learned over the years that collaboration not only makes the work lighter, it makes it better,” but admits he has difficulty asking for it.

So for now, he’s putting in long hours, working late nights and hoping for the best from the crowd-funding campaign that will help launch the next phase of Art Heroes.