Case Study: This is My Philly

Inner-city children ages 8 to 12 (To date, approximately 40 children have participated)
Project Title
This is My Philly
Three-hour workshop sessions (To date, three sessions have been produced)

The intent of “This is My Philly” was threefold: to promote the power of images and the written word, to promote art and design as a viable career option to inner-city elementary school students and to promote diversity in the field of graphic design. AIGA Philadelphia and Spells Writing Lab drew upon their complimentary creative skills to celebrate Philadelphia, a city of many neighborhoods. “This is My Philly” sought to engage and motivate participants by focusing on Philadelphia’s positive qualities, as well as the responsibility we all have in maintaining and improving our community.

For the workshops, graphic design students from design programs at local colleges were paired with children ages 8 to 12. Under the guidance of AIGA Philadelphia and Spells Writing Lab, participating children created poems and illustrated them with collages that showcased “their Philadelphia.” An important component of the project was the use of a college or university venue rather than a community arts venue. It elevated the status of the initiative, introducing the children to the possibility of college and, hopefully, art and design as serious career choices.


Reaching our audience was more challenging than we anticipated. We worked with Spells Writing Lab to promote the project, since they have an existing network of children and parents. Flyers were made available at their inner-city location and the event was posted on their website. Although many of the elementary school students we attracted through the website post were racially diverse, the majority had already participated in various enrichment opportunities and had access to private, magnet or successful charter schools.

One possible solution we came up with to address this issue was “adopting” a school in our target socioeconomic demographic, which might result in the participation of children who are less served. Another possible solution was to do the workshop on location, but we didn’t want to lose the experience of having children working in college classrooms with college kids, which was an exciting opportunity for them.


Spells Writing Lab began each workshop by directing the children in a brainstorming session to explore their favorite community experiences through the use of the five senses. The children were first directed to identify something they see, feel, taste, hear and smell in their community. Then, with the help of their college buddies, they proceeded to draw a map highlighting these special quirks of their surroundings. Once these maps were created, the pairs each made a list of related words and descriptive phrases, developing their ideas into a poem.

AIGA Philadelphia then delivered a brief presentation on artists who utilize outlines and mixed media collage, such as Pablo Picasso and Eric Carle. With the guidance of the college students, the children created collages of their poems. The afternoon came to a close with parents, teachers, kids and college students sharing and discussing the work.


We consider the project a success based on the positive feedback we received from the participating children and college students, and from our partner, Spells Writing Lab. Through creative dialogue, participants were able to share the pride and excitement they feel for their city. The college students were challenged to motivate and mentor the children, while the children learned to articulate their thoughts through design, writing and art. In summary, the partnership between AIGA Philadelphia and Spells Writing Lab, as well as the partnership between college students and elementary school children, successfully showcased the Philadelphia design community.

The end result of the workshop was a tangible takeaway in the form of a poem and collage. The pieces created at two of our workshops were showcased in an exhibition at Widener Memorial Foundation Gallery at Moore College of Art & Design in May of 2011. Principals, teachers and parents were invited to a reception celebrating the young creators. One collage was even published in a local magazine, Conspire. We hope that by viewing the results of the workshops, elementary school administrators will gain an appreciation of the importance of art programs in cognitive development, particularly as ever-increasing budget cuts threaten our schools. 

Additional information

One initial goal of the project was to design and print a book documenting the workshop results, with the intent of giving the book to each participant. Although the design is well underway, funds for printing still need to be raised. Another plan that is currently on hold, due to our already-overburdened volunteers, is an ongoing online exhibition of the work generated in the workshops. We believe such an exhibition would help promote our chapter, as well as both groups of students.

There has also been some discussion of expanding this program to include high school students. In that scenario, the participating students would work with volunteer arts and design professionals rather than college students. Additionally, the Education Committee of AIGA Philadelphia has had ongoing discussions about the general notion of “mentor up/mentor down,”  as our goal is to build educational programs that connect the talents and experiences of different generations.