Afterhours: In Service to Our Community and Our Craft

Original article can be found here.

Creating a poster show from scratch is hard. Creating a poster show when you’ve never done it before is even harder. But a small group of dedicated designers living in Austin, Texas pulled it off—and, in the end, galvanized the community to generate nearly 10,000 meals for Central Texans in need. Read on to find out how they brought their idea to life.

 

 

It all started with a simple concept: we craved a place to showcase our creative skills outside of our everyday work. As a group of designers working in north Austin—who by and large have relocated here in the last couple years for our work at IBM—we also wanted to invest in and enrich design-as-a-craft in Central Texas. It was pretty simple, really: we’d all had experiences participating in shows, and we knew we wanted that in our community. Why not make it happen ourselves?
 
When we started planning, we had no idea what we wanted to do beyond putting on a poster show—nor did we know exactly how to pull that off. We were flying blind, but we kept some goals in mind:
  • Celebrate our craft. We wanted to flex our creative muscles, exercise our craft, and honor the fact that all of us (speaking, at least, for the poster show planners) work on “passion projects” in our off hours.
  • Build our community. We want to live in a place where creativity and the craft of design flourish. Austin has a great foundation in the arts; we know we can contribute to that, and we aim to.
  • Benefit our community. We wanted our poster show to be as much of a charity event as it was a creative outlet.
  • Build it to last. We wanted to make something sustainable—something for Central Texas creatives to look forward to and participate in year after year.
 
Over the course of seven months we worked out all the details of putting up a show, and on Nov. 4th 2015 we launched “Afterhours — a poster party off the clock.” It was a smashing success—and yes, we’re already planning next year’s show!
 
Making this poster show happen was an adventure. None of us had ever planned a poster show before, so every task involved discovery. Below, I’ve mapped our most critical findings. I hope it comes in handy for other intrepid creatives who want to bring their ideas to life.
Find Your Identity
Our first task was to come up with a name and brand the event. We weren’t really sure what to call it, so we tossed around a bunch of ideas. To streamline the process, we leveraged tools that we’re all fluent in, since we leverage them daily during our work at IBM Design:
 
  1. Slack allowed us to communicate our ideas throughout the day, keeping track of them and sharing them in a group forum whenever inspiration struck
  1. Mural allowed us to amass our ideas on virtual sticky notes, then reorganize them around implicit relationships
 
On Mural and Slack, we came up with time-based concepts, thematic approaches, and discussed other shows for inspiration — namely the pop-up show model from Artcrank. We admired their symmetry and simplicity: a show with 30 artists who each produce 30 prints. We liked how the brand could grow over space and time, since all Artcrank shows use the same name regardless of location. But the real beauty of the Artcrank shows is that they’re all based on things people can easily relate to: art and bikes. Inspired by Artcrank, we adopted the 30 prints by 30 artists model, resolved to sell each of our prints for $30, and decided that we wanted our show’s brand to be both relatable and scalable.

image

 

Over the course of a month, we narrowed down our concepts to a group of ideas that evoked our initial goal: to create a format that would celebrate our passion projects. We landed on “Afterhours a poster party off the clock.” The name spoke directly to what we were trying to do: create a show that grew from our off-hours work, which would encourage creatives to do side projects, and which could be repeated year after year. Now that we knew our name and what we were about, it was time to figure out whom we would partner with to bring the vision to life.

Find Your Cause 
We knew from the get-go that we wanted our show to be community-centric, and we decided early on to donate a portion of the poster sales to a local non-profit. But who to chose?
 
To be honest, finding a non-profit to support was one of the easiest things we did; there’s an abundance of worthy groups to chose from in Central Texas. The harder part was aligning our non-profit with the Afterhours brand and developing a theme that would hopefully tie all the posters together.
 
After a bit of debate and discussion, we decided upon the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas (CAFB). We picked them for a few reasons:
  1. Our poster show was timed to align with the fall holiday season, which is when food banks ramp up for donations.
  1. Austin–and Texas in general–is big on its food culture.
So by picking the CAFB, we also determined our theme: FOOD.image

Find Your Kind 
Our third task was more challenging: find 30 artists who would join our crazy scheme to create a show. 
 
We started off by creating a website and twitter account to call for entries. Since our show was new and no one knew our group of IBM Designers, we had to get creative. And by “creative” I mean we straight up begged people to enter our show. I don’t mean that we got on our knees, but we did send a bunch of emails, mostly to designers and illustrators from the Dribbble community. We also hit up all the studios and agencies in town that we could find—we even tossed down a gauntlet, challenging them to submit their best designers. Personally, I don’t think this last strategy worked very well—but hey, we tried everything.
 
In the meantime, we were trying to figure out how to select the final 30 artists to showcase. We knew we wanted an official jury process and, in keeping with our community-centric vision, we hoped to include some local design leaders. Strategically, we also knew that having a panel of judges with a solid local reputation and following would help connect us to more creatives who might submit their work for the show. Ultimately, we reached out to a few amazing local designers to see if they’d be our judges — and to our surprise, they all said yes! Suddenly, we had a judging panel: Armin Vit, Geoff Peveto, Brad Woodward and Lauren Dickens.
 
When the call for entries concluded, we received a total of 89 submissions. Many of those came from our direct emails or posting on Facebook. Being a new show, we weren’t entirely sure how most of the artists found us, but we’re stoked they did! From there, we turned it over to the judges to pick the top 30 designers for the show. 
 
Once selected, the 30 finalists (named above) were given about a month to create their food-related posters. We later discovered that, for most of the artists selected, this was the first show they’d ever participated in.

Find Your Home
Next, we had to find a venue. We contacted roughly a half dozen venues in the area and got a variety of responses—that is, if we got any at all. Our initial show dates were Nov. 14 & 15th, but we soon discovered that most gallery spaces where booked for a city-wide event during that time. Luckily for us, we got in touch with Sean Carnegie from LewisCarnegie . I can’t say enough good things about Sean and his crew. They are great people! If they hadn’t stepped in and donated their space, Afterhours may not have happened. After talking to Sean, we decided to move our event to Nov. 4th, mostly due to conflicts with local events. Needless to say, we learned that if you’re planning a show, it pays to be conscientious about what’s happening in your community and give as much advance notice as possible.
 
 

Find your Partners
At this point, we had the name or the show, dates, a non-profit cause, and a venue. Next came the task of trying to get a few partners onboard. You might assume this would be difficult, but it really wasn’t. Since we had most things planned out at this point, we went into every conversation equipped with a fully developed pitch and plan. Most potential partners signed on immediately. 

Find Your Audience
We wanted as many people as possible to see the amazing prints our 30 artists had created. And since our show was set up for four whole days, we had to find a way to generate sustained foot traffic. That’s where our partnership with Austin Texas Dribbble, a local design community network, came into play. We reached out to the Dribbble community manager to see if we could bring the next Austin Dribbble meetup to Afterhours. After a few emails, they were in. 
Better yet, serendipity smiled on us: this meetup happened to be their 25th, so the Dribbble community had already planned surprises of their own. Their event, sponsored by Clearhead with a special collaboration project by Funsize, added a lot to Afterhours, and I like to think it was a win-win for everyone involved.

 
Find Your Thrills
In addition to generating foot traffic, we wanted to host a variety of compelling activities to draw people in and ensure a good time. We had beverages, art, and a backyard to hang out in, but my personal favorite addition was Food Fight.
 
Food Fight was not about us throwing food at one another during the opening reception. However fun that may sound, it’s not conducive to selling prints. So scrub your mind’s eye of flying pies, and instead imagine a rap battle, but with spontaneously created images instead of beatboxing and rhymes. Inspired by Ink Wars, an event that some of us saw at Weapons of Mass Creation in Cleveland, Ohio a few months prior to our show, Food Fight was all about on-the-spot creativity. The event pitted 5 artists against one another, armed each with sharpies and a 24”x36” blank canvas, and challenged them to produce an original piece of artwork in one hour. The theme the artist had to work with was Fast Food.
 
image
After the hour of furious art-making, Afterhours attendees could vote on their favorite piece. Everyone had received an entrance ticket in exchange for their Afterhours at-the-door donations (either non-perishable food donations or cash donations); to vote, they dropped their ticket in the box under their favorite poster. We then drew a ticket from each box and the lucky winners walked away with 24”x36” drawing that had been created right before their eyes.
 
In appreciation for our artists, we also offered all 30 of them prize packs including donations we’d received from from Cotton Bureau, Draplin Design Co., Good Fucking Design Advice, Titos Vodka and JuiceLand.

Find Your Wins
We knew that, if we were able to pull it off and the show was worthwhile, we’d learn from it and immediately start planning the next one. So our final task was to reflect: had we had been successful or not?
 
We’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:
 
  • During the opening night reception alone, we raised $225 in cash donations and 224 pounds of food donations. These donations alone will create a total of 862 meals for Central Texas. 
  • In total, we donated $3,225 in cash plus 224 pounds of food to CTFB.
In other words, we raised enough money & food to provide 9,862 meals for central Texans in need!
 
If you don’t call that a smashing success, I don’t know what is. And I think we also succeeded in our goal to forge a stronger creative community. As mentioned previously, Afterhours turned out to be a learning experience not only for usbut also for the talented artists we selected, since this was the first opportunity many of them had to showcase their work!  Finally, the show also had pretty solid attendance: our opening reception alone brought together over 500 people, another 60+ attended the Dribbble meetup, and we still had people stopping by on on Friday and Saturday to pick up not just one, but two or three posters! 

Find Your Future
So what’s next? We are not 100 percent sure, but we are starting to plan for the future. Putting on a poster show isn’t easy, but it’s worth it—both for your individual growth, and as a way to galvanize and grow your community. We wouldn’t have been able to put on this show without our partners or our artists. But most importantly, the fantastic people behind the scenes made this machine come to life. I want to thank them all here: WE DID IT, Y’ALL! Our crazy idea became a reality. Now on to next year.
 

Video Credit: Chris Kelley

AFTERHOURS TEAM:
Special thanks to Rachel Sibley or helping us find the right words to tell this story and for curating this piece.

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