Visual Element paints Mexico City
posted by: Favianna Rodriguez
Not just another small business. Tumi's Design is the only bilingual, full-service Web development, design and print shop in Oakland, California. The shop is owned and run by people of color. In their words, "Our mission is to develop effective media solutions while promoting human rights and ethical business practices."
Tumi's works with clients of all sizes. Larger clients include progressive organizations like the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Vanguard Public Foundation and KQED Public Broadcasting. Tumi's also produces work for smaller, grassroots organizations and local events that promote social justice and urban art. As such, Tumi's sliding scale is an important part of their business plan.
Tumi's does not just service the local community but is an active participant. They join in and sponsor events, and employ and train local youth. In turn, the community also participates in governance of Tumi'sčTumi's works with an advisory group of community organizers, consulting them on political questions. As such, Tumi's is accountable to community and to the larger movements it participates in.
The staff of Tumi's see themselves as not just marketers but activists. "The work is not about consumerism," says graphic designer and co-founder Favianna Rodriguez, "It is about people empowerment. Design firms don't always have to go corporate. Designers play an important role in the movements for social justice. It is images that mobilize us."
Working with youth and local arts programs, the staff are also members of a community producing its own images. "The media is dominated by corporations," notes Rodriguez. "Hip-hop, street stylečthings that came out of our neighborhood are used by corporations to sell back to us. Latinos are becoming a profitable market, but there are not a lot of Latino designers." The staff at Tumi's strives to develop work that is relevant to youth and communities of colorčanother co-founder is a well known graffiti artist rooted in hip-hop. "A lot of us were brought up in hip-hop... We don't want our work to serve corporate interests, we want to speak to our audience."
As part of their work on youth organizing and movement building, Tumi's designers also participate in national forums about media justice, Web-based activism and hip-hop organizing. Tumi's produced over 50,000 anti-war posters seen around the United States. In California, they produced materials and helped coordinate campaigns against Proposition 21, the "Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Initiative," and Proposition 54, the "Racial Privacy Initiative."
Rodriguez is also active in a number of local arts organizations. She is a founder of the East Side Arts Alliance that programs cultural arts and community programs for the multi-ethnic community of East Oakland. The organization uses the arts for community activism and allows members of the community to learn about their neighbors and to share cultural traditions.
Rodriguez also helped found Visual Element, an arts program for young muralists. Building on their experience with the youth program and teaching experience at Oakland's Castlemont High School, next year the staff of Tumi's will participate in Project YES, an educational program for youth in East Oakland, an area, Rodriguez notes, that has one of the highest homicide rates in the country. Tumi's will conduct a workshop on graphic design and train young people in the skills they need to work towards careers in design.
"Historically, political graphics in movements throughout the world have shaped our society," says Rodriguez. "One of [the] languages of liberation is art and design."
Originally published in Communication Arts May/June 2004
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