CUP: Using Art and Design to Strengthen Relationships
By Deidre Washington
Issue 14 Spring | Summer 2015
Democracies are reliant upon the participation of their people. This participation requires a certain level of understanding of the bureaucratic maze made up by sometimes complex and confusing policies and procedures. A non-profit organization, The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) in New York, recognizes and addresses the disconnect than can and does occur between government and its constituency.
In 1997, Jason Anderson, AJ Blandford, Josh Breitbart, Stella Bugbee, Sarah Dadush, Damon Rich, Althea Wasow and Rosten Woo joined together to explore how the city works. Utilizing their collective knowledge and backgrounds in art, architecture, history, public policy, political theory and graphic design they created publications, exhibits and videos on such subjects as urban renewal, housing subsidies and public housing. Tapping into the creative resources of the New York community they formed collaborations on many of these projects with people from various backgrounds.
Building on this early work, today CUP has grown into a professionally-staffed non-profit that uses the power of art and design to increase meaningful civic engagement, particularly among historically under-represented communities. Their programs fall into two categories, Community Education and Youth Education.
CUP’s Community Education programs are created in response to specific needs from grassroots community organizations throughout the city, who apply to CUP for assistance in breaking down the complex issues that are impacting their communities. CUP works with these groups and with talented artists and designers to create accessible visual explanations of those issues. The print materials, videos and animations, and hands-on workshop tools are then distributed to community members throughout the city, helping them better navigate these issues and better advocate for their own community needs. For example, through their Making Policy Public program, CUP collaborated with the Chinatown-based group CAAAV and designers IntraCollaborative to create a foldout poster in English and Chinese that helps tenants of rent-stabilized buildings know their rights and fight illegal eviction.
In their Youth Education programs, CUP uses experiential, project-base curricula to take New York City public high school students from low-income communities out of the classroom to explore fundamental questions of how the city works, using collaborative research and design. CUP also provides professional development workshops for educators where both instructors and administrators learn to connect students to their local government and communities through art and design.
About the Author:
Deidre Washington is the Director for the Illustration Department at Art Center College of Design. There she utilizes her experience as an ‘innovation and creativity catalyst’ derived from her past experience in design and film production.
Before joining Art Center, she worked with Los Angeles based interior designer Madeline Stuart and architect Eric Owen Moss. For the six years prior, she managed production design teams for commercials, such as Cadillac Escalade and Barbie as well as music videos featuring Jennifer Lopez and B.B. King. While an administrator for the Culture Net Initiatives, a J. Paul Getty Trust project, she created a bridge between the Getty Center and the local arts community and institutions.
Currently working toward her MPS degree at Pratt Institute in Design Management, she commutes from Pasadena, CA to NYC for the weekend courses.