Saturday, March 31, 2012

Arts in Action

One of my very favorite essays on design is called "How Good is Good" by prominent New York-based graphic designer, Stephan Sagmeister. In the essay, Sagmeister talks about the fact that he loves what he does and he is doing good work, which is great until he finds that he wants to do something more than just make things that look good. He also wants to do good. To that end, he attempts to apply his creative problem-solving skills to big world problems (like disaster relief). However, he quickly finds that his ideas are shot down (not something he is used to) because he doesn't understand the problems well enough -- he is too far removed from the situations he is trying to impact to have the correct perspective. Too far, that is, until 9/11. Suddenly the big world problem is on his doorstep, affecting his community, and he understands it all too well.

In the midst of that tragedy Sagmeister wishes he had the skill to do something direct to help those around him. He wishes he was a rescue worker, a paramedic, or a firefighter. He feels helpless because he knows that even if he went down to ground zero he wouldn't be able to do much other than get in the way. Fortunately, he eventually comes to realize that he can do something -- he can do good by doing what he is good at. He uses his prodigious skills as a designer to create the logo, T-shirts, advertising, and album cover for the Concert for New York that raised $20 million in funds for firefighters and policemen.

The reason I love this essay is because it reflects what I try to do in my own practice as a designer. I try to do good work, but I also choose to do that work for causes I believe in (like education, the arts, and health care). The message that we can make an impact by doing what we love, what we are good at, is one that I've cherished -- but I never felt that it applied to the problems I have been facing in my own life. When it comes to things with Simon I always try to be proactive, but I also find that there are plenty of times when I feel helpless.  I sometimes think I can't make a big enough difference because I am not a neurologist, or a therapist, or a teacher. I want to fix a problem I fear I have no control over.

So, when the art teacher at Ridgely Middle School contact me because her students had decided to make Simon and Tigger the beneficiary for their "Arts in Action" event, it seemed like some sort of cosmic twist of fate (or maybe the hand of a higher power trying to remind me of my own convictions). One of the Ridgely students is Simon's Kindergarten teacher's daughter, Kayla. Kayla knew about Simon from her mom and, when it was time to make suggestions about the focus for "Arts in Action" (and where the proceeds from the silent auction of the student artwork should go), she suggested Simon's needs and shared this blog with her teacher and classmates. They agreed, and last Wednesday we attended this great event as a family (and Simon attended as the rock star he is).

It was a great night that celebrated art in many forms (there was a play, a talent show, lots of student art and crafts to participate in). The turn out was wonderful and there was a huge showing of support from Simon's school. I'd created a slide show about Simon, Tigger, and epilepsy awareness, and the students made posters as well. Lots of people stopped to talk to me, some to ask questions or share their personal stories of a loved one affected by issues they had in common with Simon, and some people just said they were happy to meet us and were keeping us on their prayer lists.

In addition to being an incredible showing of community love for our little guy; the event got me thinking that maybe I'm not completely helpless when it comes to some of the problems we've encountered on our journey with Simon. That maybe, by doing what I am good at, I can make an impact on some of the big world problem on my very own doorstep. So, after a bit of research (okay, a lot of research), I determined that one of the big problems I see is a lack of patient education during epilepsy diagnosis. Not once have we been given so much as a URL by our doctors to help us find resources and/or support -- and, sadly, I found that my experience is far from unique. Almost everyone I spoke to about their experience said that when they were diagnosed with epilepsy they went home with little more than a prescription and a "good luck, let me know if you have any more seizures, see you in a few months" from their doctor.

Now, THIS is something I can do something about. I design patient education brochures (very nice ones, I might add), all the time for conditions as diverse as AIDS, Insomnia, and Hearing Loss! I could easily create something for Epilepsy... I just need a doctor to help with the writing, grant money to fund the project, and a way to find visibility to get it into the hands of doctors and then into the hands of patients. In my experience this happens by working with regional cause-focused foundations and the local heath departments. So.. earlier this week I called our local chapter of the Epilepsy Foundation. I told them what I felt needed to happen and why. And you know what, THEY AGREED WITH ME. Tuesday I have a meeting with several board members and the executive director. I intend to make a very strong case.

I'll let you know what happens. But, even if I get shot down, I know I'm in good company (like my buddy Stephan) and I also know that I am in the right. In this case, there is action that needs to be taken and it is art that is going to make it happen. Thanks to the students at Ridgely Middle School, I will keep trying and working and bugging people until I get accessible, resourceful, imperative patient education into the hands of those that need it.

Thank you so much for reminding me of the potential power for good I can have by doing what I am good at.

The theme of the night was "Pop Art!"
Some of the amazing sculptures created by the students for auction.
Simon with his super-awesome Kindergarten teacher and her super-awesome daughter, Kayla, who presented her classmates with the idea of using Art Action night to help Simon after she heard about him from her Mom. I know her mom is VERY proud of her, and I am too. What an amazing, kind girl!
Simon and I with Mrs. N, his fantastic aid from school (I don't know what we would do without her!)

Simon got into the action with his favorite creative pursuit, painting.

For some reason, they thought that it would be a good idea to give Simon the microphone. Rather than graciously thank his supporters, he took the opportunity to belt out a (rather long) tune in their honor. Complete with a big finish and a dramatic bow at the end. Thank goodness he's cute. (They even gave him an encore -- I was looking for a gong...)

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing story! Kayla must be a very special person. I especially love that they let Simon have the microphone.