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The spring 2021 celebration of design at OHIO continues with REACH, an exhibition of work by graphic design alumni


As part of the College of Fine Arts’ and Ohio University’s spring 2021 celebration of design at Ohio University, the School of Art + Design’s Graphic Design area opens REACH: 50+ years of works by OHIO Graphic Design, the area’s first ever exhibition to celebrate the careers and work of OHIO’s alumni graphic designers.

The exhibition showcases typography, complex communication systems, and the diversity of graphic design in contemporary culture by 20+ alumni and explores their creative research in the practice. The exhibition opens to the public on Tuesday, Feb. 16 at Trisolini Gallery at OHIO's Baker University Center with the University’s COVID-19 protocol in place.

REACH is the second exhibition launched in February that celebrates the work of OHIO designers. The first, Legacy: Don Adleta and Karen Nulf, 60 years of Graphic Design, opened at the Kennedy Museum of Art on Feb. 1, the same day the museum re-opened (by appointment) after being closed to the public since March 2020 due to the pandemic. The exhibition highlights the works and careers of Adleta and Nulf, both revered OHIO professors emeriti of Graphic Design in the School of Art + Design.

The concept behind REACH is to celebrate the work of OHIO alumni graphic designers for clients around the globe, Adleta says. 

REACH: 50+ years of works by OHIO Graphic Design is the first time the graphic design area has been able to stop what we do to show what we have done,” says Adleta, who fully retires in May. “With the COVID-19 pause and my retirement, I decided it was time to reach out to our alumni and show their accomplishments. With work for clients like Prince, The new Yankee Stadium, Google, the Honorable John Lewis, PBS KIDS, Serbia, Vogue, Lady Gaga and so many more, this is what an MFA or a BFA at Ohio University did for those in the exhibit. This exhibit is proof for those high-school designer-want-to-bes and their parents that Ohio University and Athens is a place to mature your ideas of design thinking. Design research here continues to make you aware of and ready for a great future in the wide range of design possibilities.”

Shelley Gruendler, area chair of Graphic Design, says Adleta and Nulf were foundational to the robust education graphic design students receive today.  

“For graphic designers, our past is forever our future and the best way to see where we are heading is to see on top of whose shoulders we are standing,” Gruendler says. “This impressive REACH exhibition makes this quite evident: that Ohio University Graphic Design owes its success to Karen Nulf and Don Adleta. Their individual creativity and their combined striving for better and more over the years manifested into an educational environment that is perfectly prepared for the increasingly complex present. The program established a student-first approach to learning design within an interconnected community for graphic designers at all levels.” 

College of Fine Arts alumnus Elliot Strunk, BFA ’95 (Graphic Design), worked with Adleta and Graphic Design graduate student Sarah Baker to co-produce the exhibition. Strunk is the creative director of Honestly, a marketing and branding agency in North Carolina and host of the podcast "Two Designers Walk Into a Bar." 

As a former student of both Adleta and Nulf, Strunk says he’s kept in touch with Adleta and the idea to produce REACH emerged after a recent conversation.

“After my graduation, Don and I kept in touch over the years. We would check-in to learn about what we were working on, what mutual friends were up to, how things were in Athens, et cetera,” Strunk says. “When he shared the timeframe for his retirement, we began to think about what that could look like. An alumni show was one of those ideas: a design version of ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus.’” 

Strunk says visitors who view REACH will see the very definition of design and the role it plays in our everyday lives.  

“Design lies at the intersection of art, commerce and technology,” he says. “As a result, designers are blessed with unique powers and opportunities to shape the ways people live, work and play. Everything we use that someone made was crafted with form and intent.”

In celebration of Adleta’s and Nulf’s impact on his career and in support of the future students seeking a career in design at OHIO, this month Strunk is establishing the Fine Arts Designer in Residence Fund, which will support design practitioners to participate in campus and virtual residencies at Ohio University. These residencies will provide real-time insights about the practice of design, establish connections between the academic community and the professional world, and build upon a growing legacy of design excellence for future students. 

“We (my wife Betsy and I) feel it is incredibly important that Ohio University’s students are part of the ongoing conversation centered around design,” Strunk says. “I have been creative my entire life, but the graphic design program gave that creativity focus and legs — I entered the program as an artist and left as a designer. This fund allows for cross-pollination from outside of the University. Ours is a profession based on craft, relationships and the joy of learning. This fund has been created to foster that and encourage support from alumni.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, Strunk hosts OHIO Designs: A Meet Up of Alumni Design Professionals, a virtual event co-produced by the College of Fine Arts and the Ohio University Alumni Association that brings together in conversation alumni designers from colleges across the university. Strunk welcomes alumni panelists working in the design fields of engineering, information design, interior architecture, museum design and graphic design who will talk about their career arcs and the impact their professional areas of design have had on the people they serve and will take questions from participants. This virtual alumni event marks the third event in spring 2021 that celebrates design at OHIO. Information on how to register for and join this event can be found here.  

“The College of Fine Arts is thrilled to be working across campus in collaboration with our colleagues to celebrate the impact alumni working in design professions have had on us all through the REACH exhibition and the virtual OHIO Designs alumni meet up,” says College of Fine Arts Dean Matthew Shaftel. “The College is also so grateful to graphic design alumnus Elliot Strunk, not only for his myriad contributions in co-producing the REACH exhibition with legendary graphic design professor Don Adleta and for hosting the virtual alumni event, but also for his generosity in establishing the Fine Arts Design Residency Fund, a fund that places at OHIO annually a professional designer who will bring contemporary design concepts to students and also connect them to the professional design world. The Fine Arts Design Residency Fund bolsters the growing legacy of design excellence at OHIO.”  

The inclusion of Scripps College of Communication’s School of Visual Communication (VisCom) alumnus Eric Mayville as a participant in the virtual OHIO Designs alumni event is reflective of the effort in Graphic Design and VisCom to establish an interdisciplinary formal collaboration centering on design education at OHIO, says VisCom Director Timothy Goheen.

“Ohio University alumni with degrees and careers in varied aspects of design contribute daily to nearly every aspect of our lives," Goheen says. “The development of this initiative at OHIO through collaborators and partners across campus would both recognize that contribution and benefit students who come to OHIO to receive and experience a top-tier design education.” 

Explore OHIO’s spring 2021 celebration of design: 

Open through March 28 at the Kennedy Museum of Art: Legacy: Don Adleta and Karen Nulf, 60 years of Graphic Design 

Opens Feb. 16 at Trisolini Gallery and online: REACH: 50+ Years of Works by OHIO Graphic Design Alumni

Feb. 17: OHIO Designs: A Meet Up of Alumni Design Professionals, an online event produced by the College of Fine Arts and the Ohio University Alumni Association 

To give to the Fine Arts Designer in Residence Fund make checks payable to the Ohio University Foundation and note “Fine Arts Designer in Residence Fund” in the memo line. Send checks to Ohio University Foundation, PO Box 869, Athens, OH 45701.

Don and Karen used the classroom to help bring the world to me and my fellow students. Their work hinted at interests, travels and backgrounds they had experienced, interpreted and could share. They gave me something to aspire to. They made me hungry to learn. They helped me fall in love with design. 

--Elliot Strunk, BFA ’95, Graphic Design

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