A Story Full of Hope: Marion Design Co.

“And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

A fascinating story has been unfolding over the last few years – a story full of hope.  I have asked my communications assistant, Jill Pederson, to capture this story so that I could share it with you….

“It began four years ago when our Art + Design Division combined design, interior design, art and social impact into a new degree called Design for Social Impact – an idea originally birthed by Professor Wendy Puffer.

Professor Herb Vincent Peterson and Teaching Fellow Luke Anspach joined the ranks of faculty at IWU – each adding key talents, knowledge and passion to the list of instructors guiding the Design for Social Impact students.

In 2015, one IWU design student who enrolled in a typography class with Peterson also took a journalism class to fulfill a needed English credit.  An assignment for this journalism class connected her to the Mayor of Marion where she learned of the city’s desire to re-brand itself.  However, the city had a significant challenge in that they had virtually zero resources.  This student carried the message of the city’s need back to Peterson, who knew that IWU could help.

Word spread about the “re-brand Marion” project.  Perhaps the most amazing of all was a group of 17 IWU students who refused to go home during the summer of 2016.  They felt called.  They wanted to use their talents to make a difference in this community.

Wendy Puffer, Marion Design Co. Co-Founder

Puffer explains, “We had a meeting in my living room.  We explained to them that we could not pay them.  We told them that we understood the importance of making money during the summer months.  We prayed as a group about what the Lord would have us do; not one student backed out.”

Peterson began searching for studio space where their sizeable team could land for the summer to do their branding work.  Their number one desire was to be in the heart of Marion.  Through a series of remarkable circumstances, less than one week after his first inquiry, Peterson was holding a freshly cut key to the vacant bank building across from the courthouse – a space they were given to use at zero cost for the summer.

The space was perfect.  It had the exact number of tables and chairs needed for every member of their team.  The county (current owner of the building) took care of utilities and maintenance needs.  The students and faculty worked for free.

“This became a hub for an incredible, immersive learning experience for 17 students and 4 faculty.  We became a ‘thing’ that needed a name.  Someone mentioned the name ‘Marion Design Co.’ and that was that,” explains Peterson. “Marion Design Co. was a project grown by faith.  God was at work because things that are not humanly possible were happening every day.  We finished each day that summer saying, ‘What a day!’  We were living it together.  Our faith was stretched.  Our students’ faith was stretched.  We were learning alongside one another.”

They describe difficult days in the bank.  Their branding research was not easy.  They held design thinking sessions where people came in with heavy burdens, heavy concerns for Marion.  People had stories they needed to tell.  Stories of racism, poverty and unemployment that spanned generations.  They also learned encouraging things and discovered strengths of this community. When things got especially challenging, they took retreat in the huge bank vault to read scripture and pray.

The bank became a sacred space, a neutral ground.  In time, as they listened to people, talked to people, the students and faculty who made up Marion Design Co. became representatives of the city of Marion.

The result was something none of them could have imagined – work for a lifetime.  The Marion Design Co. has become marketing agents for the city of Marion seeking to change the visual vernacular of this city.  They are helping to revive, empower and propel Marion to a brighter future.

Like an army of ants, the people of Marion Design Co. are marching out to serve on boards, committees and work on projects on a scale of which I am incapable of fully explaining in one blog.  They are re-branding storefronts, re-branding businesses and schools, producing radio spots, volunteering time, creating spaces for conversations and infusing hope into every place they go. They are slowly, but surely changing perceptions.

They have completed two notable projects:  the re-branding of the City of Marion and a complete re-design of the City of Marion website.  If you have not visited the new website, here is a link:  https://cityofmarion.in.gov. Anyone who visits this website will see Marion through the eyes of people who care about their community.

“It is truly remarkable.  I just had a student tell me that he wanted to apply for a summer internship position with Marion Design Co. for this coming summer,” explains Anspach. “Just two years ago, all of this was just an idea.”  Anspach describes his joy in being a part of marrying design with passionate, creative college students and putting them to work in a community where they are genuinely making a difference.  As he explains, “To me, this is what it means to embody the gospel.”

The county has given Marion Design Co. permission to stay in the bank building until they have a buyer for this building.  I have a hunch that one day, Marion Design Co. will be forced to vacate so that a flourishing, successful business that sees an incredible opportunity in Marion can move in.

Our students and faculty have big, beautiful ideas for Marion, Indiana.  Do you?”

“Even the largest avalanche is triggered by small things.” Vernor Vinge