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New student-led design agency promotes the work of local nonprofits

Students who work for the Open Quote Creative collaborate on materials in their workspace in the School of Communication and the Arts. (Photo by KJ Jugar)

Students in Liberty University’s Studio & Digital Art (SADA) Department have jump-started their careers in professional design thanks to the launch of Open Quote Creative, a creative agency that allows them to work directly with clients from start to finish.

The agency, operated by students enrolled in ARTS 497: Creative Agency and 597: Creative Agency, was launched last fall. Professors Stacy Cannon, Brianna O’Neal and Audra Rygh, the executive creative directors of the agency, said the students are specially selected for the agency work.

“We hand-select students every semester because we’re working with real clients off-campus,” Cannon said. “We want to ensure our students have the right amount of background knowledge and demonstrated professionalism so that we can depend on a good relationship with the clients. It’s been a very student-centered endeavor, and we’ve tried to get them involved in every step of the process.”

The agency was made possible thanks to a grant from the Office of Sponsored Programs & Research.

“We have always been aware of the experiential opportunities that other departments have been able to offer, and we were excited to create something for ourselves and carve out an opportunity for our students,” Cannon said. “The grant was hugely essential for making it happen, so we are very thankful for that.”

Each semester, Open Quote Creative will take on three to four local nonprofit clients and create print and digital materials to promote events, initiatives, or their missions as a whole. This semester, the agency is made up of 22 students who are divided into three teams, each taking a client, and modeled after the leadership structures of real industry creative agencies with a creative director, art director, and project manager. There also graduates students who participate in leadership roles such as design manager, communications strategist, and media strategist.

“After the initial client meeting where we vet the client and ensure our missions and goals align, everything is passed off to the students, and we monitor what they’re doing in all communications with the client, pitch meetings, work produced, and so on,” O’Neal said. “We get the students involved with the clients as soon as possible, and our students have done an incredible job. Overall, I would say the clients were impressed by how diligent the students are in delivering high-quality designs and how quickly they’ve been turning around those materials.”

Students designed these graphics for a Freedom 4/24 fundraising initiative.

One of their clients is Rush Homes, which creates affordable housing in the Lynchburg region for low-income families with disabilities. The students have worked to promote its “Parade of Playhouses” event on April 27 that will feature a raffle for custom, accessible playhouses built by local contractors.  The proceeds from the raffle will be going to Rush Homes to assist in their mission to provide affordable housing solutions to low-income families with disabilities. The community event will also include face painting, bouncy houses, food trucks and more. Students have created promotional materials and prepared day-of materials for the event. They will also be designing print and digital newsletters for donors and tenants following the completion of the event materials.

The other two clients this semester are Freedom 4/24 and the Elkton Volunteer Fire Company. Freedom 4/24, which seeks to prevent and end sexual exploitation and human trafficking both locally and globally, is partnering with Open Quote Creative to promote its “40 Million” fundraising initiative. The goal is to raise $400,000 by collecting 40 million pennies, with each penny representing a life saved. In preparation for its 100th anniversary in 2027, the Elkton Volunteer Fire Company has hired the students to design a challenge coin, which they will give to past and present firefighters, and prepare materials to promote the anniversary event and parade in the coming years.

Last semester, the agency worked with the missions organizations Acts and Advancing Native Missions (ANM). They developed a “7 Days of Prayer” guide for ANM and various materials for Acts.

A sample of the agency’s work for Rush Homes, a local nonprofit that creates affordable housing for people with low incomes and disabilities.

Noah Depledge and Avery Veenstra, two seniors in the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design program who were founding members of Open Quote Creative last semester, are working with Freedom 4/24 this spring as the creative director and art director, respectively. Both said they have appreciated the opportunity to be on a team that mirrors a professional agency, doing real work alongside other artists and promoting organizations they care about.

“I think this experience allows for a really collaborative view of design,” Depledge said. “I saw this as a really good opportunity to grow in that area, and it’s been the best experience so far. Having the leadership structure is special too because we get to learn how to lead and work under leaders, both of which are things we’ll see in the workplace after we graduate.”

“We get to delegate more based on our different skill sets and interests, and then it all comes together as a body of work,” Veenstra said. “It’s also been a great opportunity to serve through graphic design. Working with these nonprofits, it gives us a greater mission to everything we’re doing.”

For students interested in learning more about Open Quote Creative, reach out to Professors Cannon, O’Neal or Rygh. For others who would like to get connected with the agency as clients or otherwise, email DesignAgency@liberty.edu.

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