Recap: 2017

Big challenges from the year?
Trying to find a balance on multiple fronts. The balance between making a difference and running a small business. The balance between creating something beautiful while in the midst of the disastrous political climate in America. The balance between love and fear, work and life, conviction and uncertainty, comedy and tragedy, going slow and going fast. 

Proud accomplishments from the year?
The Dundee Theater really is beautiful. Part of me still can’t believe it’s real. So much magic at 50th and Dodge.

You look back and smile?
Women running for political office. The Democrats working hard for change. People adding their voice. People standing up for public schools. People boldly realizing their vision. People trying to stop pipelines. People standing up for justice. People raising awareness. The power of the poster. The power of local music. The power of film. A state senator named Heath Mello. Film as an art form. All the beauty at The Union. Bringing back The Dundee. And those crazy guys at Round and Round and Round

You look back and cringe?
The state of America.

What next?
The primary focus of this year was Film Streams. A huge project that included branding, print, web, environment, and social. With it just about complete, looking to 2018, project work for the next few months is sure to be exciting. But there will also be more time made for recharging, exploring, experimenting, and contemplating. What exact form those words take in practice is a little uncertain but I’m sure it will be written about here.

As this year closes, let’s be sure to support our favorite nonprofits who continue to push for a better world. We need them now more than ever. And then let’s be sure we take some time off while we keep trying to find the balance. 

Godspeed, America. Wherever it is we’re going.

Stand Up For Justice: The Book

Graphic design from the annual poster show organized by Justin Kemerling & Nic Swiercek

I’m very excited to share the culmination of a 6 year project. My time as organizer on the design side of the Nebraska Appleseed poster show now exists in book form:

From 2011 to 2016, Nebraska Appleseed hosted a social justice poster show. 62 posters in all, the designs are powerful tools for advocating for equal justice and opportunity for all. As a collection, the posters represent a hopeful view of what we can all do when we work together.

In 2011, when Nic Swiercek approached me about using poster design to help raise money for his nonprofit, I was certainly into the idea. Now looking back on six years of design work, spread over 148 pages, the end result is better than what we were hoping for at the outset.

As a project, it has allowed designers in the community to use their powers for the forces of good. Unveiled every year at Appleseed’s Good Apple Awards, it excited supporters as well as nonprofit leaders. It visually told the story of this organization and helped them raise money to support their very important work. And as a small-scale project, as an example of graphic design at its best, it can be replicated for years to come. Not only at Nebraska Appleseed, but with any nonprofit in the country who is into the idea.  

The poster show continues on, now organized by Colleen Syron. The designs this year were stellar and can be purchased online, including all past years, if still in stock.

We did try to get the book legitimately published with the help of Kendra Galante of Ervin & Smith. But alas, no luck. It’s available on Blurb with a hefty price tag. (Some of these discounts help a bit.)

Many, many thanks to all the designers who have donated their time and talent over the years. Their contributions make this book something very special.

When the only thing left to do is turn up the music really loud

When the deadlines are coming at what seems like lightning speed, when the back and forth has way surpassed a measurable amount, and when the end of the year brings about a certain amount of mental fatigue because you’re overworked and approaching burnout, there’s not much that can be done aside from cranking the volume to 11 and hoping your clients and collaborators will understand your current predicament. Onward into the dark night my dear friends!

Never take for granted

When you get to work with people who care deeply, are super thoughtful, bring great ideas, and are open-minded as hell. That is rare, but not as much as you might think. Just pay attention.

If you want to keep catching lightning ...

... you have to keep walking around in the rain. Yes, it happened. I finally saw Ira Glass in person. And it was everything I hoped it would be.

The voice, the delivery, the subtlety, and the humanity of it all. He shared what he’s learned. How to tell a story. How to interview kids. How musicals molded him. How to speak Spanish on a road trip. And while I absolutely appreciated his final act where he boldly defended the fact-based media and laid out the current situation where America finds itself fighting for truth against a media ecosystem out to destroy reality whenever possible, my favorite part was about creativity.

Specifically, how it’s normal to be bad before you’re good. I can relate. When I started out in design I was fucking terrible. Sure, I could draw a page layout with a pencil, pica pole, and some grid paper in about 10 seconds, but design? Creating something new that’s moving and beautiful? Nope. No idea how to do that. Drop shadows, bevel & emboss, outer glow. Just fucking terrible. 

Now I’m better. I’ve done some pretty solid stuff and I would consider my design work good. But still, it’s a process. And on my journey to getting good and looking out to what’s next, I took comfort in a thing Ira said about creative work as you get older. That if you’re lucky, it stays hard. I like that a lot. If the work just gets easier and easier that means it gets less and less interesting. And boredom, well that’s killed about every single endeavor I ultimately stopped doing. 

Ah Ira, you’re a gem. America is a much, much better place for your presence in it. Carry on ...

The Dundee

As of December 1st, 2017, the Dundee Theater is once again, fully operational. And then some. Right at 50th & Dodge in midtown Omaha, the beautifully restored theater is ready to show more fantastic programming from Film Streams, serve food from Kitchen Table, and anchor a neighborhood already home to some notable tenants. Cupcake anyone?  

The project for me began in the summer of 2016 and it’s now coming to a close. Oh what a ride it’s been. Led by Film Streams and The Sherwood Foundation, working with Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, Project Advocates, Lund-Ross, ASI Signage, and Wags Sign Co., the graphic design work included all signage, both inside and out. From the new marquee on Dodge all the way down to the tiny labels in the bookstore. Neon sign? Yep. Magnetic letters for programming? Of course. Tenant signage for the entire site? You know it. Throw in a silhouette of a ladder and a red balloon and there you go.

All in all, I’m extremely proud of this one. The theater itself is 92 years old. This latest manifestation created by the visionary architects of Alley Poyner Macchietto sets the stage for at least another 92. 

Here’s to another century of art films, independents, classics, documentaries, and definitely cartoons. Huge congrats to Rachel, Casey, Patrick, and the rest of the Film Streams staff. Because of them, the city has another gem in its cultural landscape.

Want to go to the movies?

Add Your Voice

Everyone has a story to tell. Every community is a place of experiences worth sharing. Part of The Landscape data + people project from the Omaha Community Foundation, the VOICES microsite is a place for people to share some of their experiences online. There are five questions from members of the community currently being asked. All you have to do is visit the site and share your story.

Add Your Voice »