Working toward graduation last spring, Bethel College student and Newton native Austin Prouty was looking for a project to do for his senior seminar — a requirement among graphic design majors.
Some students create their own personal brand or start a freelance business, Prouty said, but his path was a little different. Thanks to Prouty's faculty adviser, Rachel Epp Buller, he was presented with a unique opportunity to be part of the design team on Kauffman Museum's "Campaign for a New China" exhibit that debuted in spring 2019.
Epp Buller was leading a class collaborating with the museum on the exhibit — which featured propaganda posters collected in 1976 by the late Robert Kreider, Bethel College professor of peace studies — and invited Prouty to be a part of that. While not officially enrolled in the class, Prouty did end up offering his services in graphic design to the exhibit for his senior seminar, partnering with Kauffman Museum curator of exhibits Chuck Regier.
"I did the visual identity system for it, so the logo and basically any kind of marketing materials you would see from it," Prouty said. “Working on the ‘Campaign for a New China’ exhibit was a tremendous opportunity that allowed me to both showcase and expand the technical knowledge I gained in my time at Bethel College."
That included work on an outdoor banner at the museum advertising the exhibit, promotional materials sent out to Kauffman Museum Association members, gallery guides and several parts of the exhibit itself (including section labels, title and credit panels) — a new experience simply because of the interconnected nature of the work.
Prouty and the "Campaign for a New China" design team's work was recently recognized with the Mountain-Plains Museum Association's Publication Design Award at the organization's annual conference, accepted by Kauffman Museum curator of education Andi Schmidt Andres. The MPMA is made up of member museums in a 10-state region.
Jury members for the MPMA Publication Design Award acknowledged the excellence of Prouty’s work in creating a visual identity system that unified the promotional postcard, outdoor banner and take-home gallery guide.
“Receiving the MPMA Publication Design Award is a great honor, and shows the many possibilities when working with a group of talented individuals on a project that is truly unique," Prouty said. "It is a little bit of a surprise, but I think there was so much energy behind this exhibit because it was a new experience for all of us — for me and the other students who were working on it, and then also for Kauffman Museum to have students working on a project like this. There was a lot of energy behind it and I think it was a really cool project. I think that ended up showing in our work."
Working as part of a team was part of what drew Prouty to the exhibit, while backstory was another hook to get him involved in the project.
"It's very rare for you to make something just for yourself, so it was important for me to find a project that allowed me to work with a team and collaborate with other people so it wasn't just me making just what I wanted to make with minimal input from others, kind of get that extra perspective on it," Prouty said. "I've always been kind of drawn to design work that has research behind it or a grounding in history. That was a part of the class that Rachel Epp Buller taught."
Additionally, Prouty’s work on his senior project helped earn him a Thresher Award, Bethel’s highest academic award, given for high achievement in a senior student’s major discipline. Prouty graduated in 2019 with degrees in both graphic design and business.
Starting out, graphic design was not the path Prouty saw himself following. After transferring from the University of Kansas to Bethel, he switched majors from computer science to business, but getting a graphic design job in the Bethel College communications office quickly led to his pursuit of a double major.
Prouty is currently working on his master's in fine arts and graphic design at the California Institute of the Arts, with hopes to get into advertising or commercial design, seeing his work on the award-winning Kauffman Museum exhibit as a potential steppingstone.
"The more kind of portfolio pieces that you can have to show that have been actually produced and have been used by the public, and then also have been award-winning, I think is a huge point for my career going forward," Prouty said.
“Campaign for a New China” is currently under development to become another Kauffman Museum traveling exhibition. Details about the exhibition and links to the award-winning publication are on the Kauffman Museum website.