In 2022, the Stuart Foundation and students in the Design Lab at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles formed a creative partnership. The goals: To explore how to visually represent the Foundation’s strategy and to gain perspectives from young people on what thriving – the Foundation’s North Star – means to them. 

“As a Foundation, we don’t have many opportunities to hear directly from young people,” reflected Stuart Foundation President Sophie Fanelli. “This partnership reminded us of the value of those connections. We loved hearing from the student designers and were inspired by their artistic interpretations of our strategy.”  

The project was timed to coincide with the planned development of a new website and a renewed commitment to exploring ways to authentically engage young people to gain insights into their perspectives, experiences, and vision for the present and future. We designed the project collaboratively with students and staff to include visual interpretations of our strategy, which would then be integrated into products and ultimately the design of the foundation’s website.  We were inspired by the students’ individual creative process and deeply moved by the students’ reflections on what thriving meant to them personally, as well as on their educational experiences – particularly given the role that the pandemic was playing in their personal and academic lives.   

During the discovery and learning phase of the project, the students identified themes of “community, resilience, and dynamic youthful energy” as key elements of the Stuart Foundation’s “brand.” Students then created four illustrated murals that integrated these themes and provide a visual representation of the Foundation’s mission of transforming the lives of young people through public education.  

The students identified themes of ‘community, resilience, and dynamic youthful energy’ as key elements of the Stuart Foundation’s ‘brand.’

The four artworks pictured below – Paper Collage, Golden Age, Cacti in Bloom, and Pathway Quilt – convey a vibrant understanding of the ecosystem needed to create the conditions for adolescents to thrive in California and are inspired by the students’ lived experiences.  Isabel Kim, who designed “Paper Collage,” stated, “This design… is representative of the personal journey through adolescence. I wanted to capture the experience of breaking out of the established mold to discover who you really are. The first block represents the foundations built during childhood, the second block the explosiveness and rebuilding that happens during adolescence, and the final block represents the quiet confidence of adulthood.”  Isabel also designed “Pathway Quilt” and reflected, “There are visual motifs of seeds and flowers that reference the way in which we grow from adolescents to adults. The traveling lines are the ways we navigate through life and often switch directions unexpectedly. It represents the relationships we form with others and how one connection can change the direction of your life.”  

Laura Salazar, who designed “Golden Age,” and Salan Hamamah, who designed “Cacti in Bloom,” both amplified what is essential for a successful system.  Laura states, “To me, the poppy represents the persistence and optimism that characterizes California’s youth.  Although these flowers are strong, they can’t grow without assistance; pollinators like insects have an important role in their development as they nurture, support, and help them thrive.” Salan echoes that statement, “Cacti carry our most valuable resource: water… With care and tending, they will bloom and thrive. Similarly, our youth have valuable gifts and innate abilities that must be nurtured in order to blossom into their full potential.” (Click on their artwork below to read the complete artist statements.) 

“Paper Collage” by Isabel Kim

“Golden Age” by Laura Salazar

“Cacti in Bloom” by Salan Hamamah

“Pathway Quilt” by Isabel Kim

These four illustrations formed the basis for the Foundation’s new color palette and the look and feel of our new website. We’ve also integrated the illustrations into photo backdrops, notebooks, and Zoom backgrounds, and we will continue to look for creative ways to elevate the students’ creations.   

We are grateful to have these thoughtful and beautiful interpretations of our work and to be guided by these committed, creative, and talented students.   

Learn more: The Design Lab is the only design studio in Los Angeles that functions as a collaborative between students, staff, faculty, and external clients. Since 2007, Otis College of Art and Design has published an annual Report on the Creative Economy, an important resource that analyzes the influence and impact of creative sectors on the overall economy of California.