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Graphic Arts Students Work for Symphony
May 1, 2006

At 11 am on May 10 a dozen Calvin College seniors in art professor Frank Speyers' graphics class have a client appointment with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

The marketing campaigns the students will present at that session, to be held in Calvin's Meeter Center lecture hall, mark the culmination of their semester-long projects for Communications Design, an art class that serves as a marketing simulation.

“It's an exploration of branding,” says Speyers. “It's the most realistic simulation that I could make it.”

Taylor Voss and Rachel Hyde
Rachel Hyde, an art director from The Image Group in Holland, Michigan, works with student Taylor Voss on his marketing ideas for the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Scott Miller and Ed VanPoolen
Ed VanPoolen (rt.), a creative director from The Image Group, dialogues with student Scott Miller about his ideas and the upcoming presentation.

Scott's monitor
“It's inspiring,” Hyde says. “It's good to see students produce so many kinds of ideas.”

Every year Speyers' class takes on the marketing challenges of a real-life organization, attempting to capture that client's message in brochures, mailers, letterhead and other materials.

Past clients have included Jubilee Jobs, Goodwill Industries International, Inc., DeVos Place and the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

“The ideas behind the work are still academic,” Speyers says, “but when you have a client, the idea is rooted and grounded in reality. The idea takes on feet and can walk.”

The process started early in the semester when the class met with symphony executives to hear about their marketing needs.

“We went in there and listened like crazy," says Speyers. "What they told us is they're having trouble getting the ‘boomers' to come to the symphony.”

Speyers class has responded with a variety of campaigns.

“We're all taking our own approaches,” says senior Alison Hamstra, whose campaign centers around the idea of a symphony concert as a romantic evening out.

Hamstra, an art and computer science major who plans a career in graphic design or video production, likes the real-life challenges of Communications Design III.

“What's great about this class is it allows you to build your design portfolio,” she says.

Hamstra also appreciates the marketing experts who visit the class periodically to give the student portfolios a real-life critique.

“Not only are we getting to produce our stuff, but we're getting input from professionals in the field," she says.

One such visiting professional, Rachel Hyde, an art director from The Image Group in Holland , Michigan, was excited by the student work.

“It's inspiring,” Hyde says. “It's good to see students produce so many kinds of ideas. So many times, you see the same idea over and over again.”

She also praised the students' software mastery.

“I was glad to see the students using the tools well,” she says.

Hyde, a 1998 graduate of Calvin, is also an alumnus of Communication Design III. “I used my portfolio from that class to get my first job,” she says.

The creative ideas students generate in his class not only land them jobs, Speyers says, they may also be picked up by the client for an actual marketing campaign.

“All the students' names and e-mail addresses are on the backs of the materials we give them at the end of the semester. If the client is interested in the ideas, they can contact the students and credit their ideation—and compensate them, of course,” he adds smiling.

Right now, the student marketers just have to make it through their pitches.

"Presentation is a big part of it,” Speyers says. “They each have to do a little three-minute shtick. They have to memorize it. It's show time, baby.”

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson