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Kelly Salchow MacArthur poses by her work.
Brooke Conrad | Col­legian

An exhibit of graphic designer Kelly Salchow MacArthur’s work is on display in the Sage Center for the Arts until Nov. 19. Called “Reper­cussion,” the col­lection fea­tures digital designs with eco­logical mes­sages. MacArthur is an asso­ciate pro­fessor of studio art and co-coor­di­nator of graphic design at Michigan State Uni­versity. She also com­peted in rowing in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. 

Why did you choose to emphasize envi­ron­mental con­ser­vation in your exhi­bition?

I think my awareness of envi­ron­mental issues was heightened in that I spent 30 years rowing on dif­ferent waterways around the world, so I’ve seen firsthand how we are either treating our natural resources and our envi­ronment well or not. Envi­ron­men­talism just seems to be an urgent and imper­ative focus that I really believe should be brought to the fore­front of dia­logue.

In my show, there are some large posters that are very bold and clear, and then there are also more subtle, per­sonal approaches. I’ve learned in teaching at MSU that there are dif­ferent kinds of learners, and so I may need to explain the same thing in six dif­ferent ways. So I’ve kind of taken that approach in terms of how to convey the message of envi­ron­men­talism in my work.

What do you find most unique about graphic design, as opposed to tra­di­tional art?

I think they are very related in that we are working with the same ele­ments of visual form — point, line, shape, plane, and color. But I think graphic design perhaps is more explicit in terms of the mes­sages that we’re con­veying to the viewer. Graphic design relies on typog­raphy — words — and imagery, and a com­bi­nation of those to create mes­sages that will be under­stood by the viewer. Anytime we have words being included, there’s a clear message that’s being con­veyed.

You seem to prefer to do graphic design work by hand, instead of on the com­puter. Why is that?

I really enjoy the process of cre­ating some­thing. When I began my under­graduate edu­cation in graphic design, the com­puter was just starting to be con­sidered a pos­sible tool for graphic design, so I ended up having to work by hand in a lot of my projects from beginning to com­pletion. By the time I grad­uated, we were all taking the com­puter graphics class, but I’ve tried to work by hand as much as pos­sible because I think I can figure things out more quickly that way. It’s more exper­i­mental, and it’s a more natural way to work, as opposed to the division between maker and object that the key­board may introduce.

Do you employ other kinds of art?

As a graphic designer, I’ve been exploring how I can bring three-dimen­sion­ality into the work, and indus­trial design and archi­tecture helps me under­stand some of those ideas. I also reg­u­larly use my own pho­tog­raphy in my work, so anytime you see pho­tog­raphy in my exhi­bition, that’s my own pho­tog­raphy. And I rely on drawing a lot in my process, so I’m starting with many, many sketches before I start to narrow down my idea.

What brought you and your work to Hillsdale?

I met [teacher of graphic design] Bryan Springer  a year and a half ago at an AIGA [the pro­fes­sional asso­ci­ation for design] con­ference. I think he looked at my work on my website and thought that I could be a pos­sible can­didate for an exhi­bition at Hillsdale.

How do you think your work was received at Hillsdale?

I heard some great ques­tions. I was lucky enough to talk to a few stu­dents at the reception the other day. I heard a few people say that it was a show that was dif­ferent than what they had seen at the Sage Center for the Arts, and I think that’s great.