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Going Public

Arts & Entertainment

Going Public

Photographer Jennifer Rowsom (left) and Sheila Sampath stand in front of posters for their smoking cessation campaign.Natalia Saavedra, Sheila Sampath and Rocio Velasquez hard at work in The Public Studio. IMAGE 1 OF 2
Local designer puts progress ahead of profits
Sheila Sampath went into commercial design knowing she was going to hate it. But in the end, she says, it all worked out because her program provided her with the tools to create The Public Studio, the lefty design company of her dreams.

From the clean lines in its office to its pink-and-white website, The Public looks kind of like your typical ad firm. But there’s one major difference: it “specializes in changing the world.” Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’re probably surrounded by its work.

Temporary tattoos promoting Pap tests for trans guys? A brightly coloured website about how to quit smoking? A photo campaign featuring a fabulous crew of queer South Asians? If not-for-profit design and PSAs have gotten remarkably more fun in this city, Sampath and The Public are the ones to thank.

The project was only an idea in the back of her head until Sampath realized that, after years of activism, she was burnt out. She wanted to focus her energy on creative campaigning — generating stickers, posters and design. So the activist-turned-entrepreneur developed a plan: go to design school, spend some time learning the ropes, and then use her experience to breathe new life into progressive projects and campaigns.

“With commercial design, you really try to capitalize on the things that people don’t know. So you’re kind of trying to trick them,” says Sampath, who first set up shop at home, as a freelancer for not-for-profit clients.

But she soon started getting a lot of work — and finding herself lonely. She picked up studio manager Rocio (Ro) Velasquez and designer Natalia Saavedra. They also work with Montreal designer Coco Riot and a Winnipeg web developer named Derek Hogue.

For Sampath, moving from the white-male-dominated world of commercial design to a team led by rad women of colour was a welcome change. “It’s crappy to be in a space where if you say something [about a problem with an ad] people say, ‘What are you? Are you some kind of feminist?’”

Velasquez, The Public’s studio manager, says because the studio’s team hails from diverse backgrounds, they’re able to make better campaigns.

She points to The Public’s work on a recent poster series about anti-bisexual stigma. “We can do all the research that we want, but people know their own experiences,” she says. The posters featured community members who didn’t fit into some people’s pigeonhole “diversity quotas” — from a pregnant woman to an older trans gentleman.

Velasquez says that because of their own experiences with oppression and activism (she identifies as mixed-race and indigenous to South America), members of the studio don’t tokenize people. “I feel like I carry 500 years of colonialism in my face, my hands, my body, every day,” she says. “That . . . really defines the work that I want to do.”

Sampath credits The Public’s success to an unusual business model. “We put our clients through the wringer,” she says. “Their agenda is our agenda as well. We’ve turned away work before because we’re like, ‘This place is sketchy and they’re trying to save Third World babies and I don’t like that!’”

But those relationships cut both ways. “Sometimes I have to, you know, rethink invoices . . . we have to be very patient,” Velasquez laughs. “Which is understandable, because we know that everyone’s stretched, especially in non-profit and community work.”

It is unusual to hear of a design studio retroactively giving a discount. But Velasquez says it’s the kind of empathy that allows workers at not-for-profits — already terrified of impending budget cuts — to give The Public their trust.

This flexibility allows the group to use design to educate and inform, not just sell products.

“That’s a really big difference between the corporate world and the not-for-profit world . . . [the] not-for-profit world is like, in panic mode,” Sampath says. “I don’t think we’re hit by the recession as much, but we’re hit by bad politics. We’re worried that our clients won’t exist in a year.”
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Comments

Your ancestors were colonizers Mz Velathquez.
Velasquez says: “I feel like I carry 500 years of colonialism in my face, my hands, my body, every day,” Stupid gibberish...Can you be more specific? Starting with the inception of Islam in the 7th Century, Muslims colonized parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. Islam was spread by the sword --as was Christianity. The Mongols conquered Asia, India, parts of the Middle East and parts of Europe. The Turks recolonized the Middle East, North Africa and parts of southern Europe under the Ottoman Empire up to the 20th Century when they massacred 1.5million Christian Armenians. Muslims started the slave trade in Africa... Europeans colonized parts of Africa, Asia, India and North America and continued the slave trade. The Japanese colonized China, Korea and parts of south-east Asia and also used slaves. The list goes on... Which colonialism do you carry in your face? You look privileged white to me. Your ancestors were colonizers Mz Velathquez. You are presently reaping those privileges. You need not feel guilty for something you did not do --but don't spread stupid pseudo-academic political “queer” bullshit.
Real Power and Privilege
The power and privilege of this obnoxious spoiled manipulator who has taken and taken and taken and still whines that she is colonized by whitey is OBSCENE! And she gets free publicity for her money making shit from Xtra. What a phoney disgrace! SHAME!!! She should pay Xtra for the free publicity and apologize to the LBGT community for her abuse and contempt. DISGUSTING!
Can't take any more cunt cant
So, in summary, she's living in Canada, has a university education, management experience and a start-up business in a hot area of town, does design work with the Rive Gauche hipster set, access to social and media capital, displays intellect, articulation, and access to a great workforce, but somehow is oppressed by colonialism on her hands and face and tits. Could I have some of your type of colonial oppression too please? Sounds like it has worked out nicely for you. You, young lady, are a net beneficiary of the system, not a victim. Leave that mantle to those that need to claim it and can do it with integrity, and go off to your latte meeting with your ethical loan company - and also fuck off. Free advertising for a new design shop. Good going. You've figured out how to milk it like the best of them.
More.
tedious bullshit from Toronto's small but whiny "we got it so hard" viz-min (majority) immigrants. Thankfully, you the whiners are a minority. Most of the immigrants I know, and I am one, are glad to be here despite some problems, but they're pretty minor. We keep fucking moving here, colonialism and all! And I find the idea that design firms, heavily populated with gay men and lots of spunky, powerful women try to oppress you with taunts of feminism. That doesn't even happen on the Ford assembly line any more. We've moved on. People who say things like that are a small minority. And besides, the correct response to "are you some kind of feminist" is "yes" - not to flee and set up some support-group-masquerading-as-business. Lame, lame lame.
Andrew your whiteness if your shame!
Andrew, I can smell your white shame from here. Your loathing at your own complicity in the degradations of your colonized and your imperialized. You, Andrew, YOU, are so pure, so elevated, so excelling in wiping your nose in your own shit, that YOU white thing, win comment of the year award for naivety, pompousity, self-loathing and reparations-gush of any and all queered post-white solidarity. You win an all expenses life inside of Radio Farabunda Mardi!
What a bunch of griping grouses
Velasquez “I feel like I carry 500 years of colonialism in my face, my hands, my body, every day,” she says. “That . . . really defines the work that I want to do.” Okay, but you're alive and well and living in a First World country. Many of the aboriginals of South America didn't fare so well. Stop your whining. My people suffered hundreds of years of oppression and have borne it with dignity and a stiff upper lip while working to better themselves. We don't try and cram it down your throats trying to score cheap political points or drive in sympathy business. Appalling.
Time for realism when discussing imperialism
During 1487, work on the Great Temple in Tenochtitlán, ordered by Tizoc, was completed. To dedicate the temple, Ahuitzotl arranged for large numbers of captives. Surrounding rulers were again invited. Those who were enemies of the Aztecs arrived in secret to avoid questions from the common people. On the appointed day, lines of prisoners radiated in the four compass points from the temple. Contemporary accounts indicate that one line was more than three miles long. Ahuitzotl and leading nobles stood at the top of the Great Temple. Using sacrificial knives, they cut open the captives' chests and removed their still-beating hearts. The holocaust went on for four days. Estimates of the number of victims range from 20,000 to 80,000 people. Accounts described the rivers of blood that ran down the sides of the temple.

During the remainder of his reign, Ahuitzotl conquered the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Chiapas. He also established control over the Maya in the jungles of Peten. He conquered the valley of Oaxaca and the Pacific coast down to Guatemala. The sole opponent whom Ahuitzotl could not conquer were the Tarascans in Michoacan. By his death, he had expanded the borders of the Aztec Empire as far as 700 miles from Tenochtitlán. All before Columbus had even met with Ferdinand and Isabella, and Cortez was still on the breast.
500 Years? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
It does get tired. Colonialism, imperialism, warfare and human sacrifice were endemic to the Americas, like the rest of the fucking world wherever humans happen to be. It's time to give up the idea that this stuff started 500 years ago when it has existed throughout history and across geography. Pre-Columbian history in the Americas was violent and repressive, just like in the rest of the world. Yes, there are problems remaining from European conquest of the Americas, but this was only the latest. The Moche and the Atzecs murdered millions. The Mayans caused environmental collapse. It wasn't exactly all eco-friendly lesbianism-positive pacifism before Columbus showed up with his plagues and bullets.
Cut the victim shit???
Is there some kind of "Stupidest Comment on xtra.ca Award" you're trying to win or something? If there is, you're definitely going to win, so congrats!
reparations forever and ever and ever
Colonialism shmolonialism. Cut the victim shit and get a fucking life.

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