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Emerson Students Write, Design Book for Community Partner

For 25 years, Artists for Humanity (AFH) has given young artists an entrée into the larger world by hiring teens and young adults to make art and market it to the business community.

So when it came time to commemorate the organization’s milestone year, the organization did what it does best: give young creatives—in this case, Emerson College students—an opportunity to put their skills to work.

Two Emerson classes spent the spring semester putting together a book that will look back on Artists for Humanity’s first two and a half decades through the eyes of artists, clients, donors, mentors, and others who have played a role in AFH’s history (including Interim School of the Arts Dean Rob Sabal, who has helped build partnerships between Emerson and AFH). Interspersed with the interviews will be original artwork made by the young people AFH hires.

“We’re asking a lot of Emerson students and they’re coming through,” said AFH operations director Andrew Motta in an interview earlier this month.

Telling Their Stories

These weren’t graduate students who were tasked with pitching ideas, submitting proofs, and meeting tight deadlines. The students interviewing subjects and writing copy were from senior lecturer Beth Parfitt’s first-year Research Writing class.

The class was given a list of people to profile. They researched their subjects, as well as did practice interviews and profiles modeled after web sensation Humans of New York, in which extended quotes from the subjects are paired with their portraits.

“The students actually went out and did ‘Humans of Emerson’ as models,” Parfitt said.

After interviewing their AFH subjects, they submitted profiles in the 400- to 500-word range to AFH, who eventually whittled them down to around 100 words. Parfitt said the students wanted to demonstrate what they could do with the original profiles, but space trumped flourish.

The class also visited Artists for Humanity’s Fort Point studios to get a better feel for the organization they’d be representing.

“It was really inspiring just to walk in there and all the art that was around us and the music playing and all the people…” said Julia Tranfaglia ’19, a student in Parfitt’s class. “The vibe was just amazing.”

Parfitt said it was valuable for students to learn the skills they normally would in a writing class, but then be able to apply those skills to something practical and tangible.

“The students really learned the power of narrative,” she said.

Art of the Book

The other half of the project went to Lisa Diercks’s Book Design and Production class, which came up with design concepts for the 200-page book, including the cover art.

The students, working individually or in teams, came up with design samples, which Diercks then sent off to AFH to be narrowed down. By spring break, they had a basic design direction, Diercks said.

To Diercks’s class, AFH was a true client, with all the challenges and lessons that entails.

When a client’s main mission isn’t publishing, there is a certain amount of guiding the client through the process that wouldn’t be necessary with a magazine or book publisher, said Diercks, who is still active in the field.  

“You have to do a little more work on your end to make it happen…you also become something of a project manager. And some of them are discovering, ‘Oh, I like doing that kind of organization!’” Diercks said. “I think it’s a very good taste of what the real world is like.”


Real-World Experience

Carly Miller ’17, a student in the book design class, said the toughest part of the project was taking AFH’s ideas and edits and distilling them into one cohesive concept. It was hard to see their own good ideas rejected, but it was also fun and rewarding.

“The book has been challenging, I can’t pretend [it hasn’t], but it’s been a really, really, really rewarding experience, because it’s the first time I ever worked with a client, and that’s a great learning experience,” Miller said.

The book is still in the works, but Miller said she hoped to continue working on it remotely over the summer, while she interns at Melville House publishing in New York.

Motta, from Artists for Humanity, said the book would be distributed to the people who made AFH what it is, and the organization is planning to make it available for retail distribution, though there is no marketing strategy yet.

“We want to get it into the most hands possible,” Motta said. “We have all this artwork that has gone unseen.”

It will be an astonishing unveiling, according to Diercks.

“The art is unbelievable,” she said earlier this month. “We looked at the proof together on Tuesday and the students were just gasping.

“Seeing it all together in 200 pages, it’s amazing what Artists for Humanity is doing in the community.”

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