Designer Spotlight: Jermaine Bell
It seems appropriate that only a few minutes into having coffee with Jermaine Bell, he was recognized by at least three people. If you haven’t worked with Bell, chances are you’ve seen him at a event in the city — chances are he was probably running the event.
Jermaine Bell is an incredibly talented graphic designer whose work is, and constantly remains, engaged with people. In the time that Bell has been working in Baltimore, he has managed to accomplish an incredible amount- from campaigns, to comprehensive and thoughtful programming- always working directly with people.
We wanted to sit down with Bell and learn more about his work, measuring impact, and advice he has for others interested in socially engaged design.
Has your work always been directly engaging people?
After I graduated from MICA (Maryland Institute College of Arts), I worked for an advertising design agency as a traffic manager; essentially the liaison between the creative director and the creative team. I was managing the creative team, the copywriting team and the design team’s daily work. At the same time I was doing a lot of Social Media design for big companies. My contract came to an end there, and I realized that I wanted to try something different from advertising.
When I left, my partner, who is a painter, was having his first big solo show, in Baltimore, called ‘co – patriot’ which was dealing with the interior and exterior lives of African Americans; the duality of having to code switch between the aspects of your life. Working alongside Kirk Shannon Butts, of Flickeria, a boutique production company and artist management agency that provides emerging artists international exposure, I designed the press release, the invitations, the social media presence, t-shirts, and flyers. It was in this that I realized that I loved working on a project where my opinion mattered, and I enjoyed working with a like minded team that enabled me to not be in the office all of the time. I also realized that I loved working for a project that deals with people directly.
Can you discuss your time as a Baltimore Corps Fellow at Impact Hub?
Impact Hub was a great learning experience, because it was a start up where I had to be my own boss. I had to do a lot of things by myself to make them happen and always follow through.
One of the earlier things I did was bring Justin Timothy Temple, a Yoga Works Baltimore Teacher, in to teach inexpensive community yoga. Having a black man teach yoga at a start up was my attempt at making sure that all programming was intentional and inclusive.
Were there any moments with the programming that you were particularly proud of?
The first thing I did was to reach out to author D. Watkins to create an artist residency. I saw the impact immediately. During the first panel I organized, Aaron Maybin interviewed D, and I curated an exhibition of Aaron’s work. D and Aaron’s panel introduced me to Tariq Toure, a poet I had been following on Instagram for some time. I organized a panel where D turned the tables and interviewed Tariq since he was releasing his first published book, which featured images by photographer Shannon Wallace. And, because the bulk of my programming in March 2016 was focused on women for history month, Shannon’s work was perfect. I had no idea that this was her first show at that time. This domino effect became a theme. I then curated a show with images from Devin Allen’s mentees at Kids Safe Zone for the month of April to honor the memory of Freddie Gray. Which included a conversation with Devin, Activist Kwame Rose and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. Marilyn Mosby also spoke that month before a panel with Ericka Alston Buck, Kisha Brown, Director of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, and Tiffany Fox Randolph from Safe Streets Baltimore. Mosby was met with protesters and chose to leave, but that evening and that work made me see that my job was to provide a platform for ALL of Baltimore. And that made me proud.
The first event I did with AIGA was REdesign & REbuild, an evening where I called on creatives and community to figure out creative design solutions for local small businesses directly affected by the uprising.
How do you measure the success and impact of these events?
The investors want programming, but it’s always difficult to measure if programming is successful. Money floods to the programs, not to the staff or people. Which is something that we need to reevaluate altogether.
Can you talk about the impact of your work with AIGA?
The first event I did with AIGA was the REdesign & REbuild, an evening where I called on creatives and community to figure out creative design solutions for local small businesses directly affected by the uprising. This was in June 2015, Kerry Korrer, Leo Brady of AIGA Baltimore and I had conversations with Jennifer Goold of the Neighborhood Design Center about reaching out to to small businesses. We were partnered with The Druid Height Community Development Corporation. We went on and did design consultations with the community and met with the board. It began as a small project with no funding, but thanks to Kerry & Leo’s help I felt compelled to keep doing it. And now, I can say that I constructed a team that created the first partnership between two design organizations (AIGA & NDC), scouted design volunteers, managed a volunteer design team, and facilitated a rebrand for an excellent community hub that is essential in the Druid Heights neighborhood.
What something that you are still constantly working on? Pushing others to do?
It’s so important that there is real equity AND diversity; disabled, trans, etc. Everything needs to have a varied perspective. You can’t get away without that any more. Especially with design, because it affects us all. We need to be a part of the team, not just your focus group. Find “the other”, include them in the entire process, and then give them the full credit that they earned. We must all push back, we must all be uncomfortable. We must continue to have these conversations, continue to think, and continue to do things together.