The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) Graphic Design Research Initiative (GDRI) and Writers in the Schools (WITS) partnered to create a traveling visual poetry exhibition, currently on display in Houston’s City Hall Annex. The GDRI team composed artwork featuring poems from Houston-area children participating in the WITS program using techniques from fields that include concrete poetry, expressive typography and visual literature, with inspiration from Dadaism and futurism.
Gaby Hernandez, assistant professor of arts and humanities, chose three graphic design students to partner with WITS—the largest literary organization in Texas—over the past year for the project. Hernandez founded GDRI, a self-sustained, collaborative initiative that focuses on the study and practice of design research, design for social impact and information design. Her effort to ensure graphic design has a purpose and isn’t just an information beautifier made for a perfect collaboration with WITS.
“As founder and director of the GDRI, I aim to instill in the students who work with me a holistic sense of design—what it can convey and how it works as a tool to support social development and to help others have a voice,” Hernandez said. “With our latest collaboration with WITS, we were able to do just that. We worked with an organization that does a tremendous job in guiding children in disadvantaged situations on writing and reading. With our knowledge, we turned children’s poetic writing into something visually impactful and very expressive, in a setting a lot of people have access to and can enjoy.”
Mark Cervenka, associate professor of art and humanities, and director of the UHD O’Kane Gallery, explained the year-long project gives designers real-world experience. “This partnership combined the students’ vision with the artists’ vision. WITS encouraged the students to tell the stories they wanted to tell, and the designers brought visual awareness to their poetry.” Cervenka serves on the board of WITS Houston.
GDRI offers UHD students networking opportunities and helps build their confidence working with stakeholders, while also elevating the University’s reputation in the community. Last year, the GDRI team was named a second place finalist in the Book and Publication category in the AIGA Houston Design Awards for their “Open the Door” storybook, a collaboration with the Texan-French Alliance for the Arts.
The WITS + GDRI traveling visual poetry exhibition will be permanently installed in the hallway of the UHD Welcome Center by mid-July.