Storyboard: Silvia Fuentes

Amplifying the voices of the voiceless

ArtCenter was where I became passionate about social issues. It was where I learned that advertising, my chosen field of study, could be used to amplify the voices of the voiceless. Toward the end of my senior year, I began to drift away from the commercial side of advertising, and toward a more socially conscious end.

When I graduated, design was still primarily rooted in aesthetics over social impact. Growing up, I understood the value of volunteer work. It took me some time to realize that advertising and social justice could be combined to elevate worthy causes. I became fixated on the importance of advocacy.

Art has played an essential role in every social movement of our lifetime. This was true of the Chicano, labor, and civil rights movements, and it remains true today. For better or worse, everyone has a platform in 2020. How one utilizes their platform is everything. Make no mistake, one person’s voice is a powerful thing. When you put strategy behind that voice, you are amplifying it.

My entire career has been about lending a voice to the vulnerable. My life’s purpose means standing up for immigrants, laborers, the oppressed, and those who feel as though their voices are not being heard.

I’m a first generation college student from modest beginnings. Like a lot of ArtCenter alumni, I started at Pasadena City College. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to attain an ArtCenter scholarship, one that allowed me to take my first advertising class at the College. Even then, I ascertained that there was a message beneath all the gorgeous imagery.

Alas, I didn’t have the financial means to attend ArtCenter. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor, Mikio Osaki, the College’s Advertising Chair at the time, who encouraged me to transition from ArtCenter at Night classes into its day program. He also helped me land the scholarship, which ended up covering half of my tuition.

Being the recipient of a scholarship, I was determined to give back. I was a beneficiary, and I’ve never forgotten what that felt like.

So, years after graduation, I reached out to ArtCenter to help it bolster diversity within its student ranks. Once again, my goal is to amplify the voices of marginalized students. I want us all to ask ourselves, how can we be better?

When I was working for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, we signed the first DACA application and helped push that forward. That’s something I look back on in my career and think, “wow, the people I worked with really opened doors for immigrant children, and helped to secure their futures in America.” To this day, that remains one of the defining accomplishments of my career.

We are living in a chaotic national moment that has the chance to open a portal to a new, enlightened way of thinking about our country’s institutions. From the ashes of the loss we’re experiencing this year, we have the opportunity to define new ways of challenging stereotypes. It’s not equality that is the driving force of my life’s work; it’s equity. When not everyone has the opportunity to start from the same place, the system can’t be described as fair. My ArtCenter experience was much more challenging, in that way, than students who didn’t have to work 40-plus hours a week while taking classes.

I hope that everyone reading this has at least two or three causes that they’re passionate about, whether it’s social justice, antiracism, or the nonprofit sector. We’ve all got something to contribute. I never thought my life’s career would involve advocacy and community organizing. Then again, my life’s trajectory has been a response to the world I live in. It’s all about working across the interdisciplinary spectrum in hopes of achieving a common goal.

Instead of seeing each other as the other, let’s build bridges and try to understand the power of our shared humanity.

Silvia Fuentes
BFA 06 Advertising
Senior Communications Officer, California Community Foundation
Former Communications Associate, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

We are living in a chaotic national moment that has the chance to open a portal to a new, enlightened way of thinking about our country’s institutions.

Silvia Fuentes
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