COLUMN: Outsourcing design fails community

In what seems like too many years ago now, the Alberni school district held a special art contest where students were asked to create a poster to help promote the fair city and everything it had to offer.

Armed with a new set of coloured pencils and a black thin-line felt for outlining I went to work, guided with some input from my mother, on the project. By the time it was finished, it had incorporated everything we felt was important to know about Port Alberni – things like its Salmon Capital of the World status, its Guinness World Record for longest submarine telephone cable (extending to New Zealand and Australia), and attractions like McLean’s Mill or the Martin Mars water bombers.

As I wrote in this very same column more than four years ago, my entry ended up being selected as the winner, and from 1993 to 2007, the poster sailed aboard B.C. Ferries’ Queen of Alberni, until the ship underwent a refit.

I no longer have the fancy bike I purchased with my hard earned winnings, but what has remained with me always was the pride it instilled in everyone involved.

In the end, we were celebrating our community and recognizing what it was that made it so special. Having the poster displayed for the world to see on a public ferry was complete icing on the cake.

Two decades later, it has been almost 13 years since graduating from high school, but my job in the journalism profession keeps me fairly in touch with the school system.

Through countless photos taken and stories written of the good things our local kids are doing in school, it is clear to me that education is not what it used to be 20 years ago when I was in grade school.

A lot of students are smarter, even more talented, and have the benefit of a fresh perspective on today’s modern, changing world.

Sure, some of the same old issues ring true today. But looking beyond that, I see so much opportunity, technology and engagement in the classrooms that our generation never got to experience.

With all of this in mind, I just can’t get hooked on the notion that Nanaimo school district would spend a little over $24,000 on a district logo of a salmon jumping over a lettered title.

These funds were used to hire a professional company; Vancouver-based Ion Branding + Design. In addition to electronic versions of the logo, the price tag also included conceptual designs, alternative logos, and a consultation process which did involve input from students, parents, teachers and principals.

It’s not that I am opposed to the idea of a new logo – school trustees were right to want to revamp the district’s 30-year-old emblem – but one can’t help think that perhaps the opportunity for a creative, morale-boosting learning experience for local students was lost in the process.

After all, isn’t that ultimately what the district’s new logo is aiming to represent? A diverse community that comes together to create learning opportunities?

When you’re dealing with a $137-million budget, an amount like $24,000 could seem like a mere drop in the bucket.

But with a predicted shortfall in the millions and cutbacks in the district, a simple logo contest could have saved some coinage while still providing a professional look.

I have every confidence that there was enough talent in the district’s 31 elementary schools and nine secondary and learning alternative schools to come up with a logo that would have not only represented the students it served but also have done so in a cost-effective manner.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually like the design, despite some of the negative feedback that’s been making the rounds.

But whether its simplistic, eye-catching appeal is worth $24,233 in a period of declining enrolment and funding is an entirely different kettle of fish.

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