POLY: birth of a Grad Show


Although I have had wonderful experiences as a Multimedia student at my university, there is one thing about my program that has always bugged me.

As an arts program that is focused quite heavily on artistic and studio production (through all types of media), my peers and I have put enormous amounts of effort into our creative projects over the past 3-4 years. Over our time as undergraduate Multimedia students, we produce countless creative projects that get handed in to our professors for their viewing and grading—but that's usually all there is.

For whatever reason, we'd established a strange norm of not celebrating or showcasing our artwork to anyone beyond our professor—by extension, not being proud of what we are producing.

And I really wasn't proud of what I was doing. As artists, this is highly unsettling. We should create not for the approval or grades of a singular authority figure, or a sheet of paper that we get at graduation. We are meant to release our voices and stories into the world, stir up new conversations and show the world new perspectives and visions. 

So when it came time for our Senior Year Thesis, I was determined not to repeat the same mistake. 

Having studied abroad in England and having met friends in arts and design programs all over the world, there was one thing that always impressed me about all of their programs—the opportunity to have a culminating, graduating exhibition to celebrate their Senior Projects and their entire 3- or 4-year degrees.

This was something that unfortunately was not the norm in my program back home—so I was determined to change that. After all, we deserved better.

The birth of a grad show

I began to bring up the idea of a graduating show to my thesis advisor, who, over a few weeks became very supportive in supervising that as a side project. I also contacted my peers in the program, and rounded up a small group of amazing, determined individuals who were passionate about making this grad show happen. And we got started.

Team Meetings

We ran a couple of weekly meetings to brainstorm and discuss the name of our show as well as its theme. Many of those were spent cramped inside our advisor Dr. Ogborn's office, few of us sitting on speakers. From left to right: Allison, Nick, Sherri and Serafina. (Missing from the Planning Team: Leah and Luke.)

Out of all of the brainstormed themes and ideas, we highlighted the most important insight of our program: we are "jacks of all trades." As Multimedia students, we are taught to dabble in various different media, and have working knowledge of all of them. However when compared to other programs (ie. graphic design programs or photography programs, for instance) we often seem less advanced and further behind because we don't have a special focus on any one medium. A lot of what we go through then is this sort of identity crisis of not being able to have "one medium."

The one popular (negative) saying came to our minds: "jacks of all trades, master of none."

However, very little people know that this saying actually has a second line and was not intended to be negative at all: "better master of none than master of one."

This one tagline thus captured the essence of our program: that we are able to become proficient in many different media instead of just focusing on one—and that it should be seen as a strength rather than a weakness. With that, we settled with the Greek word "πολύς" (poly), meaning "many" or "much". It's often used as a prefix to many words with pluralistic connotations (ie. polygon, polysyllabic, Polynesia). We then went on to create our visual branding, rounding it down to three options:

Voting Time

And with the votes in from the program (it was a close call), we decided to go with the "fractured glass" concept, which goes well with our tagline "jack of all trades, master of none" theme. All the parks of the logo are split into different parks which ultimately converse with and inform each other; there is no one focus.

We paired the typefaces Neutra (Neutra Display Tiling for titles; Neutra Text for body) and Baskerville together. Absolute beauty.

We paired the typefaces Neutra (Neutra Display Tiling for titles; Neutra Text for body) and Baskerville together. Absolute beauty.

I will be transparent here and admit that this was by no means an elaborate project. We had an incredibly short time period to work with, while also working overtime to complete our own Senior Thesis Projects. This was a side endeavour that came out of our (little) free time. So the results are rather quite simple, but we hoped it would be minimal and elegant. 



Next came our photography for the project. Along with my photography director Sherri Murray, we established a simple black and white theme and a set style for all of the portraits of those in the exhibition. Using the same studio lighting set-up, we organized at least 3-4 different photo-sessions to accommodate everyone's busy senior-year schedules (and let me tell you what a mission that was). 


Meanwhile, I was also liaising with two amazing venue coordinators, Luke and Leah, who helped us get connected with an incredible studio space in downtown Hamilton, Factory Media Centre. Luke and Leah helped organize and plan the setting of the space and schedule of the screenings to ensure that similar types of work were grouped together and everyone got a chance to shine in their own areas.

Hamilton Art Crawl 

Going to school in the city of Hamilton, Ontario, there's one thing that we all know and love: Art Crawl. This city is famous for its monthly Art Crawl events, which bring together artists and local visitors to create a large event on the second Friday of every month—right on James Street in downtown Hamilton.

We couldn't miss this.

And so after pinning down our grad show date to strategically coincide with the April 2017 Art Crawl, we ramped up the social media promotion, focused largely on Facebook outreach. I created 3 different digital cover photos for the social media accounts of those participating to spread the word; it featured the more fun side of our graduates to be more accessible and inviting. 


The cover photos created served us well on Facebook and added personality and flair in drawing in visitors.

Postcard handouts

Super nice (and supportive) folks at the Factory Media Centre helped us put together small postcards for physical distribution, showcasing our portraits of the graduating class.

Super nice (and supportive) folks at the Factory Media Centre helped us put together small postcards for physical distribution, showcasing our portraits of the graduating class.

Set-up madness!

The day before the show, the crew went in to set up the show! Luke and Leah helped us plan out where each section and showcase would be, and we followed the plan accordingly.

Snapchat Filter

Oh, we also bought a Snapchat Geofilter. Couldn't forget that!

Show time

And when the show finally happened, we are all ecstatic at the opportunity to finally show our work to members of the public in Hamilton. More than 400 visitors came by that night—and while that may not seem like a lot, it was a huge step up from our norm of only presenting it to our class and professors. That night, we also took over our university's Snapchat account to broadcast the night of our exhibition to an audience of more than 2,000 followers. We drew in a record amount of views (2,100+) ever for their Snapchat account.

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 4.39.30 PM.png

Some really happy faces after the show! (Photo by  Sonia Leung )

Some really happy faces after the show! (Photo by Sonia Leung)

An incredible accomplishment

And with that, our graduating class had put on the first-ever public exhibition for our program, in downtown Hamilton. It took a while to sink in, but I could not have been more proud of our Planning Team and all of those involved.

All of this was born from a small seed of "what if?" In a program that never before emphasized the importance of showcasing our art to the public, we thought: why not? And more importantly, we took actionable steps to go forth and make a public exhibition happen for ourselves, without any departmental support (other than our fantastic advisor Dr. Ogborn).

We hope that this is a tradition that will continue on for many years to come in our Multimedia program, because when so many creative people come together to passionately make art—the world needs to see it.