The main mission of Jessica Ring’s ART 465: Social Issues class is to explore graphic design as an agent for change in communities.
Ring, an assistant professor in the art department, asked the different sections of her class to work with Word on the Street, Baltimore’s only newspaper run by members of the homeless population.
Junior graphic design major Max Resnick said he enjoyed the class, as it has opened up the opportunity for him to work with the underprivileged.
“It’s really material, not a project,” Resnick said. “It feels like a real newsroom, it can be hectic.”
The first issue of Word on the Street was published March 2012.
Towson’s involvement began after Baltimore’s Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau gave a presentation to the class, Ring said. Before their partnership with Word on the Street, the class worked on a variety of assignments for other communities.
In the fall 2011 semester, students prepared a number of prototype designs for the new newspaper.
The paper’s editorial board visited Towson and selected the style for the paper.
“It really is a unique collaboration and exchange of learning,” Vanessa Borotz said, a volunteer with Word on the Street.
In addition to learning about professional relationships with clients, the relationship with the newspapers’ contributors and editorial board gives students a new perspective on what it is to be homeless.
“This isn’t just about us, there is this larger context,” Ring said.
In the beginning of the semester, students travel to Baltimore to meet editors and contributors to the paper and also for a tour of services that help the city’s homeless, Borotz said.
Two issues of the paper are produced each semester. Between issues, students work on other projects for Word on the Street, like promotional materials, Ring said.
“Because we have this community partner we have to be able to shift gears and still keep the learning objectives. It is like having real clients,” Ring said.
Vendors who are homeless or have been homeless sell the newspaper, Ring explained. They purchase copies for 25 cents and sell them for $1.
The editorial board of the paper visits Towson twice during each issue to meet with the class about that issue’s design, Borotz said.
Each semester 12 to 14 students take ART465. Though two issues a semester doesn’t sound like much work, Ring said, a lot of effort goes into each one.
Photographs do not work for some stories so, the class has made some creative illustrations to accompany some articles, Ring said.
Junior graphic design major Laura Walter said it was beneficial to her to interact with the professionals at Word on the Street.
“It’s real world,” she said. “I like it. You can get a lot of reaction when [the editors] are around. I feel like I know what it’s like to be in a real work environment.”