‘Collaboration and Relationships’: Spreading the Arts with Friendtors

Students from Portland State’s graphic design program and Centennial Park School high school will come together on Dec. 5 for Friendtorship Presents: In the Works, a gallery show at Tillamook Station. The show aims to celebrate art as a force for positive social change, with a focus on PSU’s Friendtorship program.

Friendtorship is a program that encourages PSU art and design students to mentor high school students in art-focused, one-on-one mentoring workshops. The curriculum for each workshop is designed and taught by PSU students.

“We believe in the importance of creativity in education, or the ubiquity of art and design in our lives,” said Lis Charman, professor of graphic design at PSU and one of the creators of the Friendtorship program. “But really, our main focus is on collaboration and relationships.”

The program sprang out of the desire to broaden access to art and design learning programs for under-served students. Charman said she wanted to help support the arts in alternative schools such as Centennial Park School.

It began with Charman and a small group of dedicated graphic design students hosting two-hour weekly lunchtime workshops. The original idea was to bring CPS students to PSU to experience a college campus, but when the group learned that most CPS students rarely travel downtown because of the distance, the Friendtorship program opted to come to them.

Charman said she hopes the program helps students understand that college is an attainable goal.

“Our goal is to share that PSU’s campus is an open and welcoming place; that the idea of college is not foreign, distant or inaccessible,” Charman said. “[It is] very important we seek to create a supportive collaborative community.”

Cassandra Swan, a student of graphic design at PSU, has volunteered with the Friendtorship program for three terms and couldn’t be happier with the experience.

“I love being around people that want to be there for someone or that want to give back in a really constructive, hands-on, no-bullshit kind of way,” Swan said.

Swan said she first heard about the program through her own portfolio review mentor, who was then a volunteer. Soon enough, Swan was hooked.

“It was making things hands-on with high school students for a few hours a week and getting to share the world of art and design with them, and letting them share their world with me,” Swan said. “It gave me some perspective and it made me feel like I was doing something that mattered.”

One of the biggest challenges facing the program right now, Swan said, is the lack of funding. She said materials for workshops are paid for out of pocket.

“We have to be creative with what we’ve got and make it work,” Swan said.

Swan said that the one-on-one dynamic of the program can be strange at first. She said there are instances when uncomfortable subjects have been broached by mentees, but that those moments can serve as valuable learning opportunities.

“Everyone in this program is amazing,” Swan said, “because they recognize that those moments are when you have the opportunity to be real with your mentee and talk about things that matter.”
Conrad Crespin, a student of graphic design at PSU, is a first-time Friendtorship volunteer. Through the program, he hopes to learn more about working collaboratively and nurturing someone going through the difficult years of adolescence.

Crespin said he first heard about the program through the graphic design program at PSU and was interested. The idea of encouraging artistic activity and its cathartic qualities in young people appealed to him.

The program allows for a great deal of freedom while designing workshop curriculum, but the emphasis is on educating and creating good work, Crespin said.

“Collectively we present and critique each other’s workshops so they can be the best they can be but also to allow the possibility of connecting workshops through process, principles or ideas,” Crespin said.

The Friendtorship program is also open to local professional artists. In the past the program has seen local designers, illustrators, screen printers, artists and theater and improv troupes take the lead for a day.

“Depending on schedule and level of interest, most professionals will come in and lead one or more two-hour sessions, while others will come in for an hour to give a talk,” Charman said. “People are welcome to stop by and check out one of our sessions before committing to volunteer.”

Additional information about the Friendtorship program and the Friendtorship Presents: In the Works event can be found at friendtorship.org.