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Abrons Style ... and Substance

by Pat Arnow

When the Abrons Art Center course catalog arrived in the mail, the cover called out loud and proud. A collage of photos shows Abrons at the Henry Street Settlement on Grand St., some Lower East Side tenements and high rises, and New York landmarks. It's a thoughtful rendition of the center's place in the neighborhood and in the city.

The designer, I found out (via a quick Google of the credit line, ALR Design) operates from Richmond, Va. How'd he know how to create a design so fitting for Abrons? When I tracked him down, I found a person with an intriguing philosophy about design and social consciousness.

Well, of course Noah Scalin used to live in New York. He grew up in Richmond, but went to NYU for theater design and lived all over the East Village. For years he volunteered at the Lower East Side's scrappy and original ABC No Rio. "I had a real connection to the neighborhood," he said in a phone call last week.

He liked graphic design, but it was a field fraught with things he didn't like. "Marketing and advertising really have such a negative effect on our society, so much directed at making people feel bad about themselves, encouraging people to live beyond their means. All that stuff was pretty horrible."

He wondered, "If I'm going to do this job, how am I going to deal with this? My solution was to create a socially conscious design firm." Unfortunately, he had to leave New York City six years ago to do it. His hometown was more affordable and gave him a family safety net.

But the idea of socially conscious design is working out. He creates printed material without too much waste, using "environmentally sensitive materials." He aims to work for clients who "are doing something beneficial to the community." Most of the time, that means nonprofits such as Abrons.

He did succeed in creating an eye-catching catalog. The content is worthwhile, too. Check out the courses for children, teens and adults in music, dance, and theater. Registration is going on now, and courses start soon (some as early as Sept. 16).

Download the catalog

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