Pretty much since the Spring of 2012 semester, I have had classes of Graphic Design 4 students design posters for the Chalk the Block Public Art Festival held in downtown El Paso every October. I told them, as with my other real world assignments, the best posters would be judged and narrowed down and then screenprinted by a local shop and put on display for sale in a pop-up gallery downtown. A “pop-up” gallery is an unoccupied space that is repurposed for the course of Chalk the Block weekend to be used for the festival. In our case the first year, the space was for lease in the historic Cortez Building on 205 Mills Street in downtown El Paso. The students whose designs were selected were responsible for cleaning and preparing the space for the event. With a nominal budget, the students promoted the event by creating flyers and chalking the Student Union breezeway on campus. They collaborated with the costume shop of the Dept. of Theatre and Dance at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) to sew poster sleeves from scrap fabrics that they all contributed and spray painted the UTEP Dept. of Art logo upon that would hold the tubes of their posters sold. They had to organize themselves and
schedule shifts as to who would work the gallery and for what hours. They had to handle and fairly distribute the money made from the sale of their posters and “up-cycled” T-shirts that they also decided to sell in the space. When all was said and done, the 14 students whose work was featured in 2012, made over $1,700 in profits.
They were the most profitable pop-up gallery of the event. The public response to their work was overwhelmingly positive, as the posters in their custom-made fabric bags sold well to impressed, satisfied customers. The event in general has done much to revitalize a once-sleepy downtown El Paso. In the end, from the students’ perspective, a public space showing was more important than the final course grade. My job during the semester was to question, push them to exceed, direct, orchestrate, build confidence, and empower. The resulting pop-up gallery was a transformative experience for each student and the public response built up their confidence in their designs and helped reinforce what they had already heard from me in the classroom.