Greatness Earned

December 18, 2009

Over the course of the 2009–10 academic year, a series of five promotional posters designed by faculty member Gail Anderson is appearing in the NYC subway system. Each one features a quote from President Barack Obama’s inaugural address—“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.”—with visuals that Anderson created with illustrator Terry Allen. As the third and fourth posters are beginning to show up on subway platforms across the city, Anderson spoke with the Briefs about the series.

How did you select the passage from President Obama’s speech that appears on the posters?
SVA’s Executive Vice President Anthony Rhodes gave me the quote. He said he looks at it every morning, which I thought was really interesting. I decided I’d do the same, so I wrote it on a Post-It and stuck it to the bathroom mirror, in hopes of finding a bit of inspiration.

What was your process for designing a visual to accompany the text?
I worked really closely with Terry Allen, whom I’ve known for over 25 years now. I wanted to create an uplifting, WPA-style poster to help brighten the mood of the city at the dawn of the new administration. We did a bunch of them and we were having such a good time working together. In the end, I showed Tony all five since they sort of made a nice little set. You can imagine my surprise when he decided to run them all.

What sort of reaction are you hoping these posters will elicit?
Connecting the message of aspiring to greatness to both the nation and the College is pretty powerful, but Terry and I wanted to make it playful at the same time. I hope it’s the sort of quote and poster that will make you feel a little better about your morning commute—and will stay with you over time. You’ll see it on five different posters over the course of the school year if you ride the subway, so that quote’s going to become a small part of your life and maybe a source of inspiration.

Image: Gail Anderson, SVA subway posters, 2009. ©Visual Arts Press, Ltd.

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