BURBANK — In Kay L. M. Wilder's graphics classes at Woodbury University, students learn not only design techniques, but responsibility to the community.
"Graphics students should involve themselves in the community once or twice a year," she said. "I do this in my work and I encourage students to do it and give back to the community."
Wilder's spring quarter Graphics II class recently got the opportunity to do that together. Each student was asked to join in a competition, to design a poster that would promote the free literacy services of the Alliance of Burbank Literacy Educators (ABLE).
A committee from the alliance--which includes the Burbank Public Library, Burbank Adult School, Salvation Army and YMCA in Burbank and Woodbury--judged the entries and selected one student's poster for display in businesses, government offices and community organizations throughout Burbank. They looked for an image that would appeal to older people with limited reading skills, ESL (English as second language) individuals and school dropouts.
The winning poster design, by Kai Vilmi, and five other entries recognized for graphic or conceptual merit, are on view in Woodbury's art gallery, along with the annual student art / design exhibit. The 25 other submissions may be seen in Woodbury's Design Center on graduation day, June 25.
Vilmi, a sophomore from Finland, could relate to someone having language difficulties here. Despite nine years of English instruction in Finland, he found it difficult to speak English when he came here two years ago.
His poster design incorporates photographs of people from various backgrounds with the text, "Reading. Writing. For your life. Learning is free." He chose to keep "the text simple, like a political poster," he said.
Vilmi's poster shows "what you can do when you learn to read: Read to your child, get a better job, have more unity in your family and a better self-image--be a part of society rather than be on the outside," Wilder said.
Ratna Widjaja came to the United States 3 1/2 years ago from Indonesia knowing English grammar but having difficulty speaking the language. She enrolled in ESL classes in Santa Monica and later at Glendale College and Woodbury. Her whimsical depictions of the alphabet convey her desire "for people to look at the poster and think 'learning the alphabet will be fun' rather than it has too much type," she said.
Runner-up Lillian Wong had her mother in mind when she designed her poster. "She's from Hong Kong, and her English isn't that good," she said. "Living in Chinatown, she doesn't have to speak English that much."
Patricia Smart, who chairs the alliance and is the Burbank Library's literacy coordinator, said students were asked to meet four criteria in their designs: Express a positive message about getting literacy help, appeal to prospective new readers, be suitable for display in business windows and have ABLE's phone number clearly visible.
Among the judging committee's members were two women enrolled in Burbank's literacy programs. One student is an adult new reader who speaks English as her native language. She is working with a tutor from the Burbank Library's program. The other is in an ESL class at the YMCA.
"In the library, we try to include students in the decision-making," Smart said. These women contributed insight into whether "one poster was easier to read than another," she said, and whether a poster might repel potential new readers by inadvertently talking down to or demeaning them.
"It was a challenge not to insult" new readers, said sophomore Sean Costello.
His understanding of their dilemma, and that of his classmates, was heightened by Wilder's groundwork for the assignment. She invited Smart to speak to the class. Wilder showed a film documentary about a young man who could not read to his child, and the feature film, "El Norte," about a brother and sister who come to this country from Central America and struggle to survive without English skills.
Wilder said she wanted the assignment to be "more than just a concept. I wanted to introduce a feeling of empathy, to help (students) identify with someone outside of themselves and feel the magnitude of the problem."
"I've seen a lot of literacy posters," Smart said, "and I think these Woodbury posters are superior to anything I've seen designed by professional advertisers because the students have been sensitive to the topic."
Plans are to produce 1,000 posters based on Vilmi's design. Smart said they could be displayed by the end of this summer.
\o7 Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times. \f7
Where and When
What: Literacy Poster Designs.
Location: Woodbury University Art Gallery, 7500 Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank.
Hours: Noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Ends June 25.
Call: (818) 767-0888, Ext. 337. For information on literacy programs in Burbank, call (818) 953-9727.