Blown Away: Engaging Philanthropy, Inspiring Creatives (EPIC)

Written by in Events

Dynamic Event Photography: The Arts of Life rally team, led by Jeremiah Chiu and Renata Graw of Plural (second and third from left), overhauled the identity of an organization that had relied for ten years on a patchwork of volunteer designs. The results (image by ActionBooth.com) had everyone defying gravity. Tim Sarrantonio (center, in Pippi Longstocking wig) was “blown away.”

On March 18th, your correspondent was at the Catalyst Ranch Chicago’s West Loop to celebrate EPIC’s latest end-of-rally party. We knew what the acronym stood for—Engaging Philanthropy, Inspiring Creatives—and not much else. We had come to find out: what is EPIC? What does it do? How does this thing work?

The closest thing to a definition was given by Mark Drozd, the creative director of Simple Truth and host of the evening:

“If you’ve never worked on an EPIC rally, you really have to experience it for yourself,” Drozd said. “You get to work with people you don’t know, under a creative director who has no idea of your talents, for a client you’ve never met before—and you pull everything together in eight weeks.”


EPIC: Chicago based creative service group is about action not talk.

EPIC is the Batman of design organizations: it strikes quickly and doesn’t ask for a lot of credit. Consequently those rescued through its efforts aren’t always sure what just happened to them. They are grateful, but dazed. “I’m blown away by how much you frickin’ did,” one client would stammer into the microphone before the night was over.

But eventually the picture came together. EPIC is a nonprofit that coordinates pro bono design work for other nonprofits. They recruit creative professionals who are willing to donate their time and assemble them into “rally teams” according to the needs of their client organizations, who compete for these services almost as though applying for a grant.





Rally Poster and detail by Tim  Lapetino, Hexanine (www.hexanine.com)

On this night we were celebrating the completion of EPIC’s three latest rallies. It was also the debut of the results. Two client organizations— the Arts of Life and the American Nutrition Association (ANA)—had gone through complete identity redesigns, and the third, Lincoln Park Community Shelter, had had a pair of videos produced for its twenty-fifth anniversary celebration. Every piece of work represented the collaboration of volunteers from the most distinguished studios in Chicago, including the Grillo Group, Plural, commonground, and the Royal Order of Experience.


Identity Study: by Arts of Life EPIC Team.


Selected Identity: by Arts of Life EPIC Team.

The occasion had attracted a mix of guests from Chicago’s creative and nonprofit communities. The choppy-haired people who didn’t take off their scarves indoors were the designers. The nonprofit folks were plumper and smiled more often. The crowd had the his-side-her-side look of two families thrown together at some unlikely wedding.

Yet the EPIC model manages to make both groups happy. Designers enjoy the moral rewards (and the rare good fortune) of helping organizations whose work they admire; meanwhile smart design goes to the constituency that needs it the most. Only the wealthiest nonprofits can afford top-notch brand design, and in any case almost none of them have the time to think about it.

A few guests represented both sides, and they were networking in two directions at once. Vernon Lockhart, the co-owner of the South Side studio Art on the Loose, was thinking of donating his time as a multimedia designer; but as the director of operations for Project Osmosis, a nonprofit that provides design education to urban minority youth—“sort of a Bookmobile for design,” as he puts it—Lockhart was also a prospective EPIC client. “Our look could use an upgrade, so I’m interested to learn more about what EPIC can do for us,” Lockhart said. “But I’m here for them, too. I admire their dedication to the community. It’s good to support what they do.”



Tangible Benefits:  The collateral system.

Larry Siegal, director of marketing and communications for the American Nutrition Association, marveled at his organization’s experience. “The creative process was based on almost a psychological analysis,” he said. “Who are you? Who do you want to be? They’ve redone logos, graphics, fonts, typesettings—we have internal documents to guide us in our use of them, we have external, outward-facing things the public will see. It’s as if we were launching a product and had a world-class marketing campaign. And they pulled all this together in eight weeks.”

Which brings us to that “blown away.” The three organizations that had benefited from this latest rally had been announced as EPIC clients in late December. When we asked the Royal Order’s Krista Seidl what was most rewarding about her work for the ANA rally, she said: “Just seeing it come to fruition. It was amazing to realize all that we had accomplished in such a short period of time.”

The guy who admitted to blown-away-ness was Tim Sarrantonio, outreach coordinator at The Arts of Life. During his thank-you speech he confessed that he couldn’t give his EPIC team some of the gifts he’d planned to give them, because—thanks to the team—those gifts weren’t up to the all-new brand standards. He wasn’t giving out his business card that night, for the same reason.

The Arts of Life provides arts programs to adults with developmental disabilities. (Not just in painting, but in all media—you can listen to the Arts of Life Band on Myspace.) “The program has been functioning for ten years, and it’s fantastic,” Sarrantonio said. “But when you’re focusing on this work and relying on volunteer graphic designers for a logo here, stationery there, website there, making sure that all your brand standards fall into alignment doesn’t work out. That’s why this EPIC project is so important: now I don’t have to do that.”

  1. 03
    Billy said:

    I participated in a EPIC rally and it was a great experience. The non-profit we worked work was amazing and inspiring. I cannot wait for EPIC to spread to other cities and help as many npo’s as possible.

  2. 04

    You can also download the pdf or purchase the process book that we created for the Arts of Life Rally here: http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/plural-design-arts-of-life-%E2%80%94-epic-rally/8501371

  3. 04
    ARTS OF LIFE said:

    A BIG THANKS to our amazing EPIC team! Our new designs are fantastic!