The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) collaborates with teachers and students, policy experts and community advocates, and artists and designers to visually communicate complex urban-planning processes and policy-making decisions. In CUP’s hands a topic as dry and alienating as voter redistricting is distilled down into a colorful, accessible foldout brochure that becomes a source of empowerment. The subjects of CUP’s projects vary greatly, but many provide practical advice to groups who lack access to such information: immigrants, public-housing residents, and at-risk youth, to name a few. CUP doesn’t rest once the design phase is complete—the group also organizes community sessions and school workshops in order to help build an engaged citizenship.
The main goal is to increase civic participation
Designer and artist Damon Rich and seven cofounders with diverse backgrounds in graphic design, architecture, history, public policy, and political theory, formed CUP in 1997 to investigate the basic workings of New York City infrastructure and bureaucracy. At first, their findings were published in a zine and presented in art installations. After becoming a nonprofit organization in 2002, Rich and fellow cofounder Rosten Woo started creating structured collaborations with CUP’s growing network of artists and policy experts. In its first real partnership with a community organization, CUP made educational videos for Public Housing Residents of the Lower East Side (PHROLES) to use at its meetings.
Today, under the direction of Christine Gaspar, CUP is a production company of sorts, matching artists and designers with civic professionals and public school teachers, and working closely with all parties to ensure that the posters, brochures, and multimedia toolkits are are well designed and useful.
Throughout the year CUP runs several community education and youth education programs, all of which emphasize collaborative design and the use of visuals to break down complex issues. An annual highlight is Making Policy Public, when CUP produces a series of four foldout posters. Past posters have included I Got Arrested! Now What?, a collaboration with the Center for Court Innovation and graphic novelist Danica Novgorodoff that helps teenagers navigate the maze of New York’s juvenile justice system, and Vendor Power!, a collaboration with nonprofit group The Street Vendor Project and artist Candy Chang that decodes the byzantine regulations governing New York’s 10,000 street vendors.
CUP plans to keep growing. To address the demand for its work outside of New York City, CUP is developing a toolkit to help educators in other parts of the country replicate the group’s project-based educational model. CUP is also working on a customized Affordable Housing Toolkit for use by Chicago-based advocacy groups.
CUP provides a rare, mutually beneficial exchange among community organizations, advocacy groups, and designers, helping them to speak each other’s languages and demystify the complexities of urban systems.