Community Outreach and Social Good

Through a range of outreach efforts and projects, our students, faculty and staff are active members in the local and global communities. Their partnerships with companies and non-profit organizations have made positive changes in Rochester and beyond. Below is a sampling of their many community outreach initiatives.

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Public Art

Two massive murals painted onto the sides of building in Rochester.

WALL/THERAPY

Erich Lehman ’97, ’99, systems administrator in the College of Art and Design, is the co-curator and lead organizer of WALL\THERAPY, an art and community intervention project. Since 2011, WALL\THERAPY has adorned buildings in the City of Rochester with massive murals that foster community, offer inspiration and transform the urban landscape. The project attracts internationally-known artists to Rochester to use city buildings as their canvas for meaningful street art. More than 135 murals have been installed on buildings in greater Rochester as part of the initiative, weaving a tapestry of public art throughout the city.

Bethel Woods Installation

A multidisciplinary team of RIT designers and architects participated in a pilot project to construct a large-scale sculpture on the historic grounds of the 1969 Woodstock music festival. Students from RIT’s Industrial Design (BFA and MFA), Interior Design and Master of Architecture programs spent four days at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts conceptualizing and designing an interactive installation for visitors during the fall 2021 festival season. The project was part of a Hello Wood event, a global initiative that promotes sustainable design, innovation and the exchange of knowledge through the creation of site-specific installations made of wood. 

The result of the collaboration was "Crossed Path," a sculpture that illustrates overcoming COVID-19 barriers to communicate and return to in-person interactions.

Honoring a Legend

Working with community partners, faculty, staff and students in RIT’s College of Art and Design crafted a sculpture honoring William Warfield, a famed soloist, actor and activist who spent his formative years in Rochester. The bronze bust was installed in fall of 2021 at the Eastman School of Music. 

Creation of the statue called on the sculpture and design expertise of: 

The College of Art and Design team worked on the sculpture with well-known Rochester artist Shawn Dunwoody. The project’s other collaborators were the William Warfield Scholarship Fund, Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester, City of Rochester and RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

Photo by Elizabeth Lamark

A group of people standing outside of the Fairport Public Library, looking at a sculpture created by Juan Carlos Caballero-Perez.

Community Engagement

Juan Carlos Caballero-Perez, professor of Metals and Jewelry Design, created a near-12-foot sculpture for the Village of Fairport, N.Y.’s Kennelly Park, outside the public library. It was the first commission for the Fairport Public Art Trail along the Erie Canal. The piece, “Connection,” was inspired by Fairport’s history and ties to the Erie Canal, resulting in a unique work that connects community members to their roots. 

“‘Connection’ is symbolic of Fairport’s history and its beauty today as a town and village with a rich history in Monroe County,” Caballero-Perez said.

Caballero-Perez’s one-of-a-kind, large-scale public sculptures can also be seen along Rochester’s ARTWalk in the Neighborhood of the Arts and at Pieters Family Life Center in Henrietta, N.Y.

Community Storytelling

A photographer taking a photo of an athlete with their family.

Special Olympics Coverage

RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences partnered with Special Olympics New York to chronicle its annual Winter Games, held in Rochester from 2018-20. Each of the three years, students in our photography programs — along with Journalism and Museum Studies students — filled a website with compelling images, videos and copy that told the stories of hundreds of participating athletes.

The project enabled students to practice their skills in a real-world, collaborative environment. As they documented events such as alpine skiing, figure skating and snowboarding, students received guidance from School of Photographic Arts and Sciences faculty and alumni volunteers.

The project was steered by student leaders, under the advisement of Photojournalism faculty Josh Meltzer and Jenn Poggi.

“Like many professors and alumni have said to me before, there is nowhere else we could have had a real-life experience like this in college,” said Jackie Diller '21 (Photojournalism), who co-led the 2019 Special Olympics coverage. “I am so honored to have been given the opportunity to produce a project as important as this. It was an amazing learning experience and helped reaffirm that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. It was so gratifying to see the athletes notice themselves in the prints and be thankful for the hard work we all put into this project.”

Support for Youth

A model displaying the green wings of the outfit they are modeling on the runway.

Fashion Week

The Metals and Jewelry Design program’s Project Runway is a partnership with Fashion Week of Rochester that enables students and alumni to display their self-designed wearable sculpture during a runway show each year. The project has inspired students and alumni to make both stunning creations and important industry connections, while giving back to the community, since 2013. Fashion Week of Rochester is an annual fundraiser that benefits the Center for Youth, a social services organization in Rochester.

“The whole idea of the project is to let students create what they want, build the lineup based on the colors and the forms that they have created, and match the music with all that as well,” said Alex Soule ’20 (Metals and Jewelry Design).

An RIT art student making art with a local youth.

Promoting the Arts

Our Visual Arts-All Grades (Art Education) MST program organizes multiple community outreach events every year to engage children and their families in the community.

One such program was a partnership with non-profit organization Joseph Avenue Arts and Culture Alliance in which MST candidates spent an afternoon making art with local youth. Another saw candidates prepare free “grab-and-go art bags” for Rochester City School District students to safely retrieve at a local library, following COVID-19 protocols. The kits contained art supplies and guided activities for endless creative fun.

Global Engagement

RIT's ice arena turned library illuminated by lights for Big Shot No. 34.

Big Shot

The Big Shot is a nighttime community photographic project started by Professor Michael Peres and former faculty Bill DuBois and Dawn Tower Dubois in 1987. Since then, the Big Shot team — composed of faculty and staff in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences and National Technical Institute for the Deaf — has engaged countless students and community members to make unique, panoramic images. The Big Shot is a “painting with light” event where volunteers provide the primary light source  of a landmark while RIT photographers shoot an extended-exposure image. 

Through their viewfinders, RIT Big Shot photographers have captured more than 30 landmarks. Examples in the U.S. include RIT's ice-arena-turned-library, Wallace on Ice (pictured here); Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, N.Y.; Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.; the Alamo in San Antonio; and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Internationally, the RIT team has captured Pile Gate in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden.

Design for Good

a group brainstorms around a table.

EUREKA!

The EUREKA! design workshop is an annual event where RIT students initiate social change by employing their skills to address challenges faced by a community organization. Past partners for the interdisciplinary project — started by Graphic Design Professor Lorrie Frear — are the Friends of Washington Grove, Maplewood Family YMCA, Rochester Refugee Resettlement Services and Veterans Outreach Center. Many of the partner organizations have implemented the students' projects

“It was a chance to help change my community for the better through design,” Brianna Young ’21 (Graphic Design) said of her EUREKA! experiences. “Every moment with EUREKA! got me more and more excited for the next phase. I now have real-world experience under my belt, such as getting to know a nonprofit organization, having face-to-face meetings with a client to present ideas/get feedback, adapting to that feedback, and so much more. Gaining these skills prepared me for the future."

RIT Hope for Honduras

Faculty, students and alumni are delivering hope and life-saving medical care to critically ill newborns in remote regions of Honduras with the design for good initiative, RIT Hope for Honduras. It is an interdisciplinary project led interior design Program Director Mary Golden. RIT collaborated with companies and non-profit organizations to design and build a custom mobile neonatal transport ambulance capable of navigating through mountainous areas to Hospital Escuela — the largest public hospital in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. RIT partners include Global Medical Response, Cruz Roja Hondureña, Hospital Escuela, and Little Angels of Honduras. 

Industrial Design students at RIT, working with Rochester Refugee Resettlement Services to design products using recycled clothing for an upcoming product line.

T-Minus

Our Industrial Design program starts each spring semester with the weeklong T-Minus workshop, challenging student teams to complete a sponsored project. Collaborations with organizations have led to students providing innovative design solutions to real-world problems.  

In 2020, students worked with Rochester Refugee Resettlement Services (RRRS). Using 1,000 pounds of recycled clothing, they designed products for Rochester Refugee Sewing and Repair to use for an upcoming product line.

“T-Minus was an incredible experience for Rochester Refugee,” said Michael Kelly ’17 MFA (Industrial Design), co-founder of Rochester Refugee Sewing and Repair, a project of RRRS that provides refugees skills training and paid work in industrial sewing. “The passionate, smart RIT students served up some great designs. You’ll certainly see them on shelves. It means so much that the students would help us invest in Rochester.”

Another T-Minus partner was the Ugandan Water Project, a non-profit organization working to provide water, sanitation and hygiene resources to communities in Uganda.

Real-world Impact

Our Interior Design program kicks off every spring semester with an intensive workshop called Hyperspace. Students work in teams and collaborate with a community partner on creative design solutions. The structure of Hyperspace — which places third-year students on each team in leadership roles — sets a foundation for success even after the workshop’s completion, according to Caroline Pedrotti ’20 (Interior Design).

“Allowing the juniors, rather than the seniors, be project managers allows them to gain confidence in both their design and leadership abilities,” Pedrotti said after the 2020 workshop. “From my own experience last year, and observing the third-years this year, you can really see a positive change in the way a lot of them will carry themselves throughout the remainder of the program.”

Past project partners include:

Syracuse Hancock International Airport 
Students designed new food-and-beverage lounge concepts, complete with fresh and healthy vending machine meal options, for the airport's pre-security area. The project aimed to improve the experience of pre-security visitors, as that area of airports commonly lack food and beverage vendors due to low revenue generation.

The airport selected one of the projects to build out. 

Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County 
The library’s "Secret Room” has made countless childhood memories during its near-100-year history as a reading and play space.

Seeking a redesign, the library tasked students with producing interior design packages that aroused a heightened sense of magic and mystery. The interior designers proposed concepts for an experiential place of wonder for children as they find the hidden entrance and step into the Secret Room for an enriching experience.

The partnership led to the library receiving a KABOOM! grant to build out the students’ concept.

Rochester Music Hall of Fame 
Students prepared conceptual designs for the Rochester Music Hall of Fame’s brand-new space in downtown Rochester. The teams designed the entire 1,350-square-foot facility, incorporating flexible space planning for performances, meetings and display venues to create a presence for the Hall of Fame in the East End neighborhood.