Pair Start Art Grad Finishing School

GRAND RAPIDS — College might give most of its graduates a solid grounding for the careers they plan to pursue, but it doesn’t ordinarily introduce them to the market.

And unless those graduates happen to have contacts through their families or friends, their first few months in the market can be a lonely icy bath.

Mark Bird and Frank Blossom both say that this can be particularly true for young graduates from fine arts programs, because they’re entering an industry where 9 to 5 jobs aren’t all that common and the competition for contract work is fierce.

Bird is the owner of Bird Design and Blossom operates Frank Communications. Bird has been in business since 1984 while Blossom’s firm is three years old. Blossom, however, worked 30-plus years in agencies before starting his own firm “to get out of that grind.”

Both he and Bird have worked as adjunct faculty members in college art and communications programs and both feel young degree-holders often don’t have a clue about what they face in the market.

Accordingly, the pair has formed an entity they call The Polishing Center — a 15-week program starting in January that basically will do three things:

  • Edit new graduates’ portfolios for work interview presentations.
  • Orient new graduates to the opportunities and obstacles lying before them. 
  • Introduce local agencies and new graduates to each other.
  • Immerse graduates in the communication industry through involvement in agencies’ pro bono projects and campaigns for nonprofits.

Right now, Bird said, the center has no physical existence. In fact he and Blossom do the center’s work out of their own offices.

But what they did recently was sponsor what they called a “smackdown” at The BOB, in which the center’s board members held a panel discussion for students’ benefits.

“We called it a smackdown, as in wrestling,” Bird said, “because we hoped the board members would do some fighting. They did.”

Blossom said the smackdown was just an introduction to the communications industry. He and Bird scheduled a direct pitch to Calvin College students for last week. Then they planned to visit students at Western Michigan University and, after that, at Grand Valley State University.

The tuition for The Polishing Center is $1,000.

Blossom and Bird said they did a lot of research in the industry before trying to launch the project.

“We both felt there was a need,” Blossom said. “It seemed to us that many students just weren’t prepared for the industry. We contacted about 50 area designers and they felt the same.”

“I wish I would have had something like this when I went into the business,” Bird said, noting that he had two advantages that some of today’s graduates don’t.

“First of all,” he said, “I was married and so I knew I had to hustle to get some money coming in.”

Secondly, he had been in one segment of the industry through employment in his family’s printing company.

“Even so,” he said, “it would have been a lot easier for me if I had known what to expect.”

As far as he knows, The Polishing Center — which will run a program that meets one night a week for 15 weeks — is unique.

“The closest thing to it,” he said, “might be the Portfolio Center in Atlanta. But that’s a two-year program, which is full time. It’s almost like a graduate school.

“Then there’s a one-year program in Chicago and a two-year program in Minneapolis.”

Blossom said he and Bird will screen graduates.

“We’re not just going to take anybody,” Bird added.

“If we get someone who just doesn’t have it, we’re going to tell them. It sounds pretty mean, but I’d rather hurt their feelings now than encourage them in a field in which they just don’t have a future.”

Members of the center’s board are:

Cheryl Bell, creative director, and Peter Bell, founder, Fairly Painless Advertising; Tom Crimp, creative leader, partner, Jager Group; Mike Farrar, new business development, Square One Design; Bill Fischer, founder,; Diane Herbruk, head coach and founder, The Wordsmiths; Bill McKendry, chief creative director and founder, Hanon McKendry; Gregg Palazzolo, creative director and owner, Palazzolo Design Studio, and Elizabeth Ratliff, division director, The Creative Group.

Two other board members who couldn’t be present for the Smackdown were Hal Hodgson, president, Aloha Productions of Hawaii and creative director and partner of the The Marketing Deli, San Diego; and David Jensen, principal, Jensen Design of Los Angeles.

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