Graphic Art

September 24, 2014; San Jose Mercury News

Art Heroes, as they say on their website, “connects nonprofits with a global community of design instructors and students who provide free design services.” The organization is dedicated to serving nonprofit causes by providing free, high-quality design work on projects like logos and websites. In the process, it provides design students with real-world projects to improve both their portfolios and the world and offers design educators the opportunity to teach social values alongside design principles and applications.

This nonprofit was created by Kevin McMahon in May 2014 and strives to match students who need real-life career experience to nonprofits that require graphic design work. This is a win-win situation that exemplifies a traditional internship exchange between a student and an organization.

Currently, Art Heroes has 40 registered colleges and universities participating in the program, including University of Denver, University of Southern California, Syracuse University, and Fordham University, just to name a few. On the student side, McMahon mentioned that in a given day, an average of 80 students sign up seeking volunteer opportunities.

The Art Heroes career development model breaks down the geographic barriers between nations, too. As students get matched with nonprofit organizations, they are also paired with instructors from around the world who can assist the student with his or her graphic design work. For example, a student residing in the United States can volunteer for an organization in China and gain a wide range of experience in his or her portfolio.

Most universities and colleges offer programs that engage students in real-life internships or practicums to enhance their studies well beyond the classroom. The University at Buffalo, as an example, offers a “Fieldwork in Arts Management” as part of its Arts Management Master’s Program that is “designed to provide students with the opportunity to learn about the professional environment and to bring together the theory and practice of arts management. It is intended to prepare students for their future careers as arts managers.” These types of programs model a well-rounded education for students. McMahon takes this to the next level and expands horizons by creating international partnerships, experiences, and career development opportunities.

What’s most interesting in the Art Heroes process is that not all who apply are art majors or going for a career in graphic design. There is a range of students wishing to gain experience for their professional careers, from designing reports to making PowerPoint presentations. So this is not exclusive to art students, but student learning overall.

It is great to see a nonprofit’s mission serve both the nonprofit sector and help professionalize the student experience at colleges and universities. Art Heroes is an organization in its infancy. As it grows, it will be interesting watching how far its size, scope, and mission can reach as it continues matching nonprofits to student experience.—Jennifer Swan