Access Gallery Poster Exhibition Gives Voices to Teens (Photos)

Drawn to Action: Posters from the AIGA Design Archives is closed briefly for a new rotation of works, but in the meantime you can get your fill of social justice posters at Access Gallery in Denver's Art District on Santa Fe. The two-part Giving Voice/Cause Related exhibition opens on Friday, July 18 with a reception and silent auction at 6–9 pm. All are welcome to attend and participate in the auction.

Giving Voice is an annual exhibition at Access Gallery, an organization that provides opportunities for people with disabilities through the arts. The annual Giving Voice program pairs local graphic designers with young people at Access Gallery to create a social justice poster about an issue that is important to the teen. Over a three week mentoring period, the teens and graphic designers meet to discuss issues, designs, and ultimately reveal the finished posters. The Giving Voice program culminates in an exhibition at Access Gallery featuring these posters in conjunction with the Cause Related exhibition, which features posters donated by designers from around the country. All of the posters in both exhibitions will be for sale during a silent auction. Proceeds will fund Access Gallery and the Giving Voice program.

Sally McCance, coordinator of access programs at the DAM, visited Access Gallery for the second design meeting. Kati Woock, curatorial assistant for architecture, design, and graphics, attended the final meeting to see the teams reveal their poster designs. Read on to find out more about this program and the people who participate in it.

Sally McCance Gets a Sneak Peek

Access Gallery was abuzz on June 25 with designers and their mentees experimenting and discussing their social justice poster projects. I had the chance to chat with a few of the teams and get a sneak peek into their collaborative process.

Marsue and Brenda meeting about their poster design.
Marsue and Brenda meet about their animal cruelty awareness design.
I found Marsue and Brenda relaxing together after discussing the final selection for Brenda’s poster, which highlights the devastation of animal cruelty. Marsue has been assisting Brenda in articulating and graphically conveying her feelings about this issue. Their work so far sends a powerful message in a single image.

Tommy and Dale looking at a laptop working on their poster design.
Tommy shows Dale some graphic design tips on his laptop. Photo by Sally McCance.

After saying goodbye to Marsue and Brenda, I headed outside and found a team working on a poster to raise awareness about the ever-important issue of bullying. Local artist Tommy and his mentee Dale were bouncing around ideas for the superhero character who would take center stage in Dale’s poster. Tommy was also showing Dale new graphic design skills and tips on a laptop. I asked Dale what the best part was of learning from Tommy. His response? “Because he’s my buddy.” See Tommy and Dale explain their inspiration in a short video.

Kelsey and Norma pose for a poster during their poster design process.
Kelsey and Norma smile while working on their poster design. Photo by Sally McCance.

My last visit of the day was with local artist Kelsey and her mentee Norma. These creative ladies were giggling, excited, and clearly enjoyed working together. With Kelsey’s guidance, Norma has been creating a unique social issue poster around seahorses and the importance of valuing differences.

Time flew by and before I knew it, it was time to go. The mentors and artists working on this project are a testament to the power of community and speaking up; I can’t wait to see these posters in action.

Kati Woock Learns Teens Want to be Heard

The atmosphere at the final meeting of Giving Voice was buzzing again! In addition to the design teams sitting in a large circle, there were other Access Gallery artists, a photographer, and visitors (like me). Pairs stood in turn and the mentees explained the inspiration for their poster (with a little help from their mentor). I was surprised by the breadth of topics covered, which included discrimination, world hunger, teen suicide, and animal cruelty. An overarching theme, though, was the emphasis on anti-bullying messages and “be yourself” messages that were clearly important to many of the young people in the group. Some of the most interesting posters included elements drawn by the mentees and digitized by the designers. (You can see some of the final poster designs in the slideshow below.)

No matter the topic, I learned that just being heard is important to young people. I talked with Damon McLeese, Director of Access Gallery, who said “Rarely does anyone ask a young person what is important to them.” McLeese was inspired to start the Giving Voice program several years ago during a visit to a poster exhibition in Chicago. He was impressed by the ability of graphic designers to make a visual language to support their ideas. Access Gallery now partners with AIGA Colorado to find some of the designer-mentors who help these young people translate their ideas into a visual language.

Amy and Josh share their Mondrian-style anti-discrimination poster with a group of students and mentors.
Amy Siegel and Josh share their final poster design with the group. Photo by Kati Woock.

Amy Siegel is a member of AIGA Colorado who has been involved in the project since it began. She said “This program empowers teens with disabilities to tell the world something important about themselves,” whether it be a personal frustration or a global concern. The chance to work with a graphic designer gives these young people the chance to speak in a way that might be heard more clearly by adults. Personally, I was struck by the creativity of the designs and the powerful messages.

Siegel notes that Giving Voice is also a positive experience for the graphic designers. Many of the designers have mentored students in the program for multiple years. Designer Art Novoselsky said that his participation in Giving Voice allows him to make graphic design for a purpose he believes in.

To see all the posters made by the Access Gallery participants (Giving Voice) and the professional designers (Cause Related), be sure to visit Access Gallery July 18–August 1 (First Friday). More information on Access Gallery can be found at

Access Gallery

Molly & Adonis

Access Gallery

Kelsey & Norma

Access Gallery

Courtney & Roxy

Amy & Josh

Access Gallery

Harry & Jareth

Access Gallery

Art & Brittany

Access Gallery

Clara & Jasmine

Access Gallery

Gretchen & Abriana

Access Gallery

Marsue & Brenda

Kati Woock is the curatorial assistant in the Architecture, Design & Graphics department at the Denver Art Museum. Kati has been at the DAM since 2014 and her favorite collection here is Design Before 1900. She enjoys visiting art storage as often as possible.

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