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Art Student Volunteers Use Talents to Help Others

When staff members at Lowcountry Food Bank were searching for volunteers to lend a hand at their annual Chef’s Feast fundraising gala last year, they called on The Art Institute of Charleston.

Culinary students and faculty from the school supported the cause by preparing and serving meals. Design students also volunteered – they painted a mural at a new Lowcountry Food Bank facility as a tribute to the nonprofit organization, which offers hunger relief resources and services. It was an impressive display of “art at work,” says D. Jermaine Husser, Executive Director of Lowcountry Food Bank.

“We are fortunate to have the Art Institute of Charleston in our community,” Husser says. “The students come from all over the country, and bring to our organization various talents, gifts, and intellect to help us improve the human condition of all our clients.”

The food bank story provides just a few examples of how students majoring in a variety of artistic disciplines are volunteering their skills and talents. At schools such as The Art Institutes, volunteerism is encouraged as a positive way for students to express themselves creatively.

“We definitely have a mindset that giving back is the right thing to do and we want students to be connected to the Charleston community,” shares Paige Canaday Crone, public relations director at The Art Institute of Charleston. “While they are helping our community, they are building on their work skills.”

Crone says that in addition to the Chef’s Feast gala and the mural, students at her school have volunteered for events ranging from fashion shows to art exhibition fundraisers.

“At (Charleston) Fashion Week, the photography students were in the photographer’s pit with international professional photographers,” Crone offers. “The interior design students designed the press lounge, and fashion and retail management students interned year-long with the Fashion Week staff. So, volunteering can offer a lot of experience that is relevant to careers.”

Web Raising is another volunteering event that gives art and design students an opportunity to hone their professional skills. Offered at various Art Institute school locations, it challenges student volunteers to develop a website for a local nonprofit organization and launch the site during the Web Raising event. The activity is reminiscent of the old-fashioned barn raising, an event where a community comes together to assemble a barn for one of its households. During Web Raising, students tackle situations they could encounter in the workplace.

“Web Raising is a really great way for students to gain valuable experience,” says Griffin Walker, a Web Design and Interactive Media instructor at The Art Institute of Portland. He serves as an advisor for the Web Raising project at the Portland school.

“We get a full range of students -- from sophomore to senior levels -- so there is a lot of mentoring in these events with the experienced students helping the inexperienced students,” Walker adds.

The Web Raising event is the culmination of months of hard work.

“Each year, we get inquiries from nonprofits asking us to help them with their web presence either by redesigning a site that does exist or producing a new site,” explains Ameeta Jadav, department chair of Web Design and Interactive Media at The Art Institute of Atlanta and Web Raising advisor. “We do a preliminary requirements analysis and if we feel students can handle the request, we choose the nonprofit.”

Volunteers are divided into teams and experience a crash course in teamwork and customer relations. Since each nonprofit has different web goals and resources, teams must provide maintainable interactive solutions for their assigned organization.

Both Walker and Jadav say their Web Raising projects have supported a wide range of non-profit organizations.

“In total, we have worked with 84 organizations since 1999. We have worked with arts organizations, organizations that work with the homeless or those that help women or children," Jadav says of Web Raising at The Art Institute of Atlanta.

Sometimes alumni come back to volunteer for Web Raising by serving as consultants to the student teams. Alicia Scarborough, an alumna of The Art Institute of Atlanta, participated in Web Raising as a student and has continued to volunteer after graduating. Now working as a user interface developer at Moxie Interactive in Atlanta, she knows firsthand how volunteer work can pay off in the workplace.

“Deadline, that is one of the most important things we learn as well as customer satisfaction,” she says.

Scarborough’s views are similar to those of Topher Kohan, also an alumnus of The Art Institute of Atlanta.

“I took part in Web Raising all four years I was at The Art Institute of Atlanta,” says Kohan, a search engine optimization coordinator for “I saw a direct effect of giving my time and knowledge to help others. I know what it can do for the people I am helping and also how that can help me be better at what I do.

“Now I find time to volunteer whenever I can.”

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