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  • Writer's pictureSteven Heller

Design Aids Social Justice

AMPL!FY is a public art and design initiative that partners an artist or designer with a nonprofit organization working on the front lines of social justice to create thought-provoking posters on themes relevant to each organization.

Launched in New York City in November, AMPL!FY is organized by Make Art with Purpose (MAP) and Worldstudio and produced in partnership with New York City Department of Transportation’s Art Program, Museum of Arts and Design and Harlem Stage. The posters will be showcased on New York City Department of Transportation’s art display cases and in an exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design through January 2018.

I asked co-founder Mark Randall (with Janeil Engelstad) to provide more amplification to AMPLIFY.

How did AMPL!FY get started? A good friend of mine and long-time collaborator, Janeil Engelstad, launched a project in Dallas called Dialogues on Race in the fall of 2014. The program featured both community murals and billboards. The murals, designed by middle-school students, explored race relations between Latinos and African Americans, and documented the journey of migrants coming into the United States from Central America and Mexico.

Based on Janeil’s work, we decided to expand on the idea together. In 2015, we partnered with the AIGA New York Chapter Mentoring Program, in collaboration with the High School of Art and Design, to implement a version of Dialogues on Race. The posters were exhibited at the Shillington School of Graphic Design.

Our original vision for New York was to create an installation in the subway; we developed a concept for the long corridors at the W. 4th Street Station and were in conversation with the MTA about what it would take to make it happen. Then, the MTA changed the rules around the types of posters that could be posted, swiftly eliminating that option.

One day I was having coffee and a snack with Wendy Feuer, who runs the New York City Department of Transportation’s Art Program. I was lamenting the fact that our project was languishing, and did she have any ideas for a public venue? It so happened that she did and DOT came on board as our first partner and allowed us to use their streetscape art exhibition panels.

Projects like this often take time to develop—both Janeil and I became involved in other activities and were unable to devote much time to the effort over the course of 2016. That all changed after the election and we both felt a renewed sense of urgency to get the project off the ground. Shortly after that, the Museum of Arts and Design and Harlem Stage joined the team.

What is your ultimate goal for this kind of intervention? We want to use public art, exhibitions, community engagement and social media to support and promote the work of nonprofits addressing a range of social justice concerns. With beliefs in an equitable, just and prosperous world for all people, AMPL!FY promotes these values by helping to sustain and support the mission of organizations working on social and climate justice issues. These organizations often play a key role in protecting people’s inherent dignity, helping the underserved to achieve their full potential and practice uninhibited expression of their rights. Typically, these organizations do not have the financial capacity to communicate their work beyond their core supporters.

Jennifer Kinon and Bobby Martin/OCD

Seymour Chwast

DJ Spooky

You’ve done many New York street projects. How is this different in message and delivery than the others? It’s a bit like herding cats with so many players, but I find it exciting to bring talented voices to bear on such a wide range of critical issues. What is unique for me on this project was the involvement of the nonprofits; typically I just involve the design community. Having their perspective gives the project the weight it needs; they are the experts and they know what they want to say on the subject. We very much wanted this to be a dialog between the artist/designer and the nonprofit—Bobby Martin and Jennifer Kinon collaborated directly with the students of the Lower Eastside Girls Club through a number of workshops they produced to create the poster.

What has been the response from the public? It’s too early to tell about public reaction, but the response from the nonprofits has been amazing. When Rebecca Fischer, the executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, saw the exhibition panel on gun violence, she was moved to tears. She said that to be a part of such intervention helps their efforts to garner additional visibility around this national crisis. This is what the project is about; for her to have the support of Edel Rodriquez to help visualize the issue is not typically something she would have the resources for.

Dread Scott

Edel Rodrigues

Gail Anderson and Joe Newton

Lissa Rivera

Why did you select the financial district to launch this? There are 10 permanent streetscape exhibition panels installed in the Financial District. DOT has additional panels that can be installed in other parts of the city; in the spring of 2018 we plan to do an installation in Harlem and develop community programming with Harlem Stage. Having the exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design gives us another venue to display the work and raise awareness around the issues.

What will the offshoots be, if any? We are on the hunt for partners to help scale the initiative; our longer-term goal is to create interventions that support local social justice organizations all across the country. We have our sights set on several cities and will soon lay the groundwork to get those started.

Our vision is that in each city the artwork will respond to the environment in which it is displayed—it may take many forms, [such as] posters, mural, sculpture or video. In each case it will leverage local artists and designers to promote the nonprofit organizations working at the grassroots level on the critical issues that impact us all.

Morehshin Allalhyari

Rafael Esquer

Ryan Hartley Smith and Jerron Herman

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