Bringing Design to the Capital: New Paltz Graphic Design Debuts In D.C.

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Four graphic design students immersed themselves into the professional design world this past summer–the first students to represent SUNY New Paltz as design interns.

Fourth-years Megan LaCognata, Dulcia Halliday, Kelly McInerney and third-year Victoria Falco interned at the Smithsonian Institute Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. from May 18 to July 12.

All four participants are graphic design majors. Last semester, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s art director, Josué Castilleja, visited the students’ Visible Systems class. Along with giving the class feedback on their latest project, he told them about the summer’s opportunity. Not long after, the four aspiring designers started working with Castilleja in his office.

“As soon as I was awarded the internship, I took it,” LaCognata said. “I knew it would be an awesome opportunity to work alongside a designer while living and adapting to a completely new place.”

During their time in the nation’s capital, these students flexed their writing, photography and graphic design skills to promote this year’s festival, which focused on Basque country, a region spanning borders across northern Spain, southwestern France and which encompasses the Pyrenees Mountains.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an annual two-week event that showcases cultural heritage at the National Mall. This event covered two weekends: June 29 to July 4 and July 7 to July 10. A collection of artists, dancers, musicians, storytellers and food were presented by Basque Country and Sounds of California, this year’s visitors to the festival. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s goal is to “strengthen and preserve traditions by presenting them at the National Mall.”

The design team’s job was to represent the featured cultures by displaying their work throughout the mall. This was an enriching experience that taught about the design world and allowed them to explore a new city, participants said.

“It was an incredible opportunity to be able to work at the Smithsonian and to get really professional experience in another city,” Falco said.

The interns designed invitationals for the festival’s opening ceremony, tent IDs for the activity tents, small signs and meal tickets for the staff and participants. They also contributed concept ideas for next year’s festival, which will highlight Cuba and Circus Arts. Without a doubt, participants cited this as great technical experience in the computer programs they have used in classes. However, the valuable lessons were more focused on the inner-workings of functioning in an office setting. This included communication among coworkers and the general public, meeting strict deadlines and representing the festival accurately.

“For each design I completed for the festival, there were four people that it had to be signed off by,” LaCognata said. “And always revisions that had to be made.”

She added that the responsibility to represent the festival accurately to the public fell on the designers, so proper communication with those outside the Smithsonian Center was crucial.

Falco agreed that the pressure of deadlines and the overall office setting opened her eyes to what it’s really like to work in an art department. This taught her the importance of having good energy in the workforce.

“Sometimes days felt like they would drag or we would get hit with so many requests, problems and edits that it was important to maintain a good attitude in the design office to have things still run smoothly,” she said.

LaCognata said that she has gained a lot of experience from participating in this event, from technicalities in InDesign, PhotoShop, and Illustrator, to “learning about being a designer in the real world.”

“There is so much more to being a designer that you just won’t experience in the classroom,” she said.