This Art will Save a Life

Three months ago a 9.0 magnitude earthquake triggered a 30ft tsunami that left a country fighting for its life. Thousands of miles away in a London based studio a designer sits at his desk desperately trying to encompass this tragedy into a 40x30cm poster. Many will raise the question how does such a miniscule effort help a country so devastated?

Until recently the words ‘designer’ and ‘fundraising’ were rarely uttered in the same sentence. But the events of Hurricane Katrina followed by the Haiti earthquake changed all that. What followed was a call to arms by the creative industry – grass-root efforts to raise money for relief funds. A trend that only intensified after the devastation left by the Japan Tsunami. An increasingly art savvy public brimming with eager collectors resulted in a surge in individual “charity art appeals”.

Online poster projects are an example of this. The Hurricane Poster Project sold posters from around the world, to raise money for the Red Cross. Its organisers followed this with The Haiti Poster Project with all profits going to Doctors Without Borders. And the HOPE (Helping Other People Everywhere) Campaign collaborates with artists to raise money for various projects in Sudan, Kenya, and America. Its first campaign resulted in the iconic Hope for Darfur posters in collaboration with street artist Shepard Fairey. Design for Haiti, Designers for Japan, The Poster Cause Project, a Beacon of Rebirth Poster Project, and Poster for Japan are just some of the others out there.

Italian based poster project Good 50×70 is an annual contest in which seven charities provide a brief on a global issue. Anyone can enter posters on any of the briefs that inspire them. The best 30 posters are collected in a catalogue and exhibited around the world. All entries are then supplied to the charities for use as communication tools. No money is made from the contest, the intent being to ‘give a voice to the efforts of many smaller charities that don’t have the chance to get good artworks for their projects’. Charities involved include Greenpeace, Amnesty International, WWF, and LILA – Italian League for the Fight against AIDS.  In its first edition it received over 1600 entries, the second 2700, the third 4210 from 163 countries.

Belgian graphic designer Adele Renault jumped at the opportunity to take part and designed her piece for Heart for Amsterdam, a charity that tries to involve investors and businesses in their local communities.

“I had just arrived in Amsterdam for an internship and I thought it’d be a great way to make my way in the city as a designer,” she says.

“On one side it allowed the charities to have a great campaign for free, and provided a great opportunity for students to show their work”.

Hart Voor Amstersdam Designed by Adele Renault for Good 50×70

Good 50×70 organisers are made up of volunteers from Italian based company Associazione Culturale Good Design.

“The Internet helps us to keep some of the costs down: for example the jury, also made up of volunteers, votes online. Exhibitions are made with sponsors who can donate paper for catalogues, or lend the exhibition space itself. Lectures and workshops are kindly hosted by schools around the world,” says Pasquale Volpe, president of Associazione Culturale Good Design and founder and creative director of Good50x70.

According to him, however minute, their work does make a difference.

“Greenpeace is using one of our posters as a key visual for an anti-nuclear campaign. That image is now commonly recognised. WWF made a series of merchandising with the 2009 visuals and used the 2010 ones for an international summit, “says Pasquale.

The Internet has given many the platform to be able to design posters on good causes.  For example Design For Haiti is an online space for designers who felt the need to contribute their creative effort but felt no platform existed for them to do so. Created by American designer Aaron Perry-Zucker, Design for Haiti is an evolution of his previous project Design for Obama.

“Like Design for Obama it was very simple and a bit last minute – it was just about bringing people together who felt they wanted to put their energy towards helping and contributing somehow,” he says.

Aaron is a partner in American design studio Big New Ideas. He’s also co-author of Design for Obama. Posters for Change: A Grassroots Anthology, along with filmmaker Spike Lee.

“With Obama it was very palpable that there was not a lot of space for people to get behind this and for the creative community to show their support. So there was no clear simple fundraising objective – there has been money raised for various charities but it’s all been through side projects. It was more about giving people the space to show their support,” says Aaron.

But while these projects have the best intentions, public opinion remains divided on the effectiveness of projects that exist solely online with no fundraising intentions.

David Stairs, editor of Design-Altruism-Project has raised concerns in his blog that with the popularity of Facebook design groups and socially conscientious design blogs, rather than muster wider awareness, they will cause both a false sense of general accomplishment, and result in donor-fatigue. The growth of a category of what are called “slacktivism” people who use their interest in design/politics to justify joining online groups and building websites for remote non-profits, fails to address the world’s problems with feet-on-the-ground solutions.”

But Good 50×70’s Pasquale argues the opposite maintaining it promotes awareness.

“Most importantly we represent a different channel for these charities issues. Public exhibitions are a good way to stimulate people and get them thinking with visuals,” says Pasquale.

“[These] projects are a great way to really push an idea of making a difference, doing something good”, says illustrator Ben O’Brien, professionally known as Ben the Illustrator. Ben took part in The Poster Cause Project that sells artwork by upcoming artists with 50% of profits going to a different charity each month.

Everything You Need Designed by Ben the Illustrator for The Poster Cause Project

“If it’s not just to ‘donate money to charity’ it can be a chance to evoke a feeling of care and love, and that is no bad thing.

“I think, sometimes a charity [art] poster can really educate, relaying facts, telling a story,” he says.

With Designers for Japan, trade magazine Creative Review wrote the brief. The designers were asked to create something that had influenced them or touched them taken from Japanese culture.

“Up until this point there had been lots of images on blogs and Flickr of red dots with cracks or sticking plasters or images of waves, which felt totally wrong and they were visual clichés we wanted to avoid, I think when you look at the final images there is a lot of black, white and red colour palette going on,” says Mark Blamire part of Designers for Japan and founder of graphic design online art shop Print-Process.

All proceeds from the sale of Designers for Japan posters, after production and postage costs, will be donated to the Red Cross and ShelterBox.

“When you are working on a project for disaster relief you have to get the job done and delivered very quickly, the luxury of time to consider at great length isn’t an option. It’s down to rolling your sleeves up and doing something quickly to the best of your ability in the hope that it is well received. It’s not a process that designers are entirely comfortable with as rushing at a problem as it is doesn’t always deliver the best considered response, a few artists opted out in the end probably because of this very reason,” he says.

The effects of the recession are being felt by all; but even more so by the organisations that rely solely on our “spare cash”. Four out of ten charities are operating on less income than they budgeted for, according to a poll by the Charities Aid Foundation. As a result charities are also thinking cleverly about fundraising. Now more than ever they are commissioning artists to produce limited edition artworks as collectables in aid of a particular cause.

For its Mending Broken Hearts Art Appeal, the British Heart Foundation asked 15 artists to design a work of art on the theme of Mending Broken Hearts and to take inspiration from images of the heart and red – its signature colour. Artists involved included Peter Blake, Maurice Cockrill, and Rob Ryan. The artworks were sold at auction and then recreated as hand-made silkscreen prints sold “on tour” in selected galleries.  According to Andrew Johnson, head of special projects at The British Heart Foundation, “art auctions for charity are not a new idea but BHF is trying to do something new in joining the cutting edge of British fashion and art to raise funds.”

We Shall Rise by James D Nesbitt Submitted, 2010

The Internet, coupled with street art and a growing collectors market has catapulted these events to another scale.

“Charities have to look for more interesting ways to reach out to people. Bigger events lead to more publicity and increased awareness and support,” says Andrew, adding that “many artists are wanting to ‘give something back’ and support the work of their chosen charity.”

“Their popularity is likely to continue,” he says.

Now in its ninth year the Edinburgh Macmillan Art Show 2011 takes place 5th to 15th of October. Over 60 artists took part in 2010 and £50,000 was raised at the event.  This year’s show will have around 300 pieces of artworks on display.

“Artists do get exposure from taking part in our art shows, however we also benefit hugely from their involvement.  Every artist who submits work to our show agrees to donate at least half of the proceeds to Macmillan and that money is very, very important in helping us fund our vital services,” says Pamela Williamson, Fundraising Manager – Edinburgh at Macmillan Cancer Support.

Whereas in the past major relief efforts focussed on music concerts, in the future expect more relief and fundraising efforts to be art focused with designers churning out one-off pieces in aid of charity.

“The template is now in place with what we have done already to react again quicker next time and get it out there sooner, designers don’t have the skills to affect disaster directly at source, the same I guess with the response that musicians have made to give up their skills and time for free to raise money, its just better to do something than nothing in the hope it makes a difference to the outcome of making peoples lives better, says Print-Process’ Mark.

Art Appeals: The Facts

  • Gift Aid can only be claimed on donations received over and above the value of the goods purchased and therefore the donations received from the sale of paintings and posters are not eligible for Gift Aid.
  • Two-fifths of donors are more likely to remain loyal to charities during the recession if they are offered alternatives to giving money, according to research by marketing company DMS. A survey of 1,000 UK adults, found that 39 per cent of respondents would use options such as buying charitable goods or raffle tickets rather than simply making financial donations.
  • In May, Japan’s Red Cross said the neediest victims have yet to receive much of the record $2.2 billion aid donated, mainly because the authorities have yet to identify them.
  • The Hurricane Poster Project, sold 180 different posters from around the world, and raised over $50,000 for the Red Cross.
  • Since its beginning in December 2009, the Poster Cause project has raised over $15,000 for organisations. So far it has donated $4,300 to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières efforts in Japan.
  • Good 50×70 has received 10,000 posters from 87 countries around the world so far. Its fifth contest is soon to launch this year.

Words: Nosmot Gbadamosi