March 25, 2024

ArtCenter Collaborates with CAL FIRE and American Red Cross to Launch Innovative Wildfire Prevention Campaign

ArtCenter College of Design has teamed up with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the American Red Cross Pacific Division to unveil a groundbreaking initiative aimed at combating the escalating threat of wildfires across the state.

While wildfires have long been a natural occurrence in California, recent unprecedented blazes have underscored the urgent need for proactive measures by the public. With over 300 thousand acres scorched and more than 7,100 fires reported in the year 2023, the state remains on high alert.

The collaborative effort, known as the Wildfire Prevention and Preparation Campaign, seeks to raise public awareness about the severe risks posed by wildfires and empower communities to take action proactively. The campaign concept was developed in a studio course co-hosted by the Graphic Design Department and Designmatters, ArtCenter's award-winning social innovation department that produces curricular and co-curricular initiatives in sustainable development, public policy, social justice, health, and social entrepreneurship.

The program tasked students with crafting a compelling multi-modal campaign to engage residents statewide. Working closely with the American Red Cross and industry experts, students delved into the causes and consequences of wildfires, identifying evidence-based strategies to mitigate property damage. Refraining from fear-based tactics, the studio adopted an encouraging design approach, mindful of diverse audience needs. Targeting Baby Boomers and Generation X homeowners, students drew inspiration from the nostalgic allure of 1960s Laurel Canyon musicians, infusing the campaign with a psychedelic vibe.

Central to the initiative is an infectious jingle, penned and performed by singer-songwriter Alexandra Hope, that urges Californians to unite in the fight against wildfires. Emphasizing the concept of the "Buffer Zone" – a revamped term for “defensible space” – the campaign employs vibrant animations to simplify brush clearance tasks and promote active participation. To amplify outreach efforts, the campaign incorporates a curated social media campaign with thought-provoking prompts to communicate the message to the public.

Under the guidance of faculty lead Guillaume Wolf, who had sadly passed, with alum and mentor Judy Toretti, supported by the grant from CAL FIRE, a dedicated team of students spent the summer refining the campaign and producing assets for rollout. The initiative will be disseminated statewide through ArtCenter, the American Red Cross, and a network of collaborative partners.

Luke Beckman (Division Disaster Director, California State Relations, American Red Cross Pacific Division) states: “What this studio has done with this campaign is the start of showing people the Art of the Possible: how we can work to change the culture, how we can empower more people, how we can create a sense of community, belonging and a partnership.”

Executive Director of Designmatters, Jennifer May states: “In this project, the students worked as one team to bring together evidence-based practices and advice from experts together with a visual language that resonates with the target audience in a really beautiful way.”

“We hope students leave Designmatters courses understanding how to collaborate with one another and with subject matter experts and communities. We also hope they understand how to center community needs in their design work to have a positive impact.”

Graphic Design student and Designmatters Fellow Ana Vazquez reflects: “We made a lot of decisions and took a lot of steps to shape our message into something digestible. During our first session with the partners, everything they showed us from a design perspective was very text-heavy and a little dense. So we had to shape many of the printed items with light text in order to get the message across quickly.”

Graphic Design student of the Designmatters studio, Kalex Shen mentions: “Wildfire Prevention allowed us to put what we learned in the classroom to work in an actual campaign to help people.”

Campaign Site:

Funding for this project was provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's Fire Prevention Program as part of the California Climate Investments Program.

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE PREVENTION CAMPAIGN is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing GHG emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment- particularly in disadvantaged communities.

The Cap-and-Trade program also creates a financial incentive for industries to invest in clean technologies and develop innovative ways to reduce pollution. California Climate Investments projects include affordable housing, renewable energy, public transportation, zero-emission vehicles, environmental restoration, more sustainable agriculture, recycling, and much more. At least 35 percent of these investments are located within and benefiting residents of disadvantaged communities, low-income communities, and low income households across California. For more information, visit the California Climate Investments

About ArtCenter: Founded in 1930 and located in Pasadena, California, ArtCenter College of Design is a global leader in art and design education. ArtCenter offers 11 undergraduate and 10 graduate degrees in a variety of industrial design disciplines as well as in a range of visual and applied arts. In addition to its top-ranked academic programs, the College serves members of the Greater Los Angeles region through a highly regarded series of year-round extension programs for all ages and levels of experience. Renowned for both its ties to industry and its social impact initiatives.

ArtCenter is the first design school to receive the United Nations’ Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status in recognition of its commitment to social impact design through Designmatters. Throughout the College’s long and storied history, ArtCenter alumni have had a profound impact on popular culture, the way we live and important issues in our society.

The visual elements feature distinctive characters the students created for the campaign.
Students worked closely with experts in the field to identify the causes and consequences of wildfires.
Students worked closely with experts in the field to identify the causes and consequences of wildfires.
Students worked closely with experts in the field to identify the causes and consequences of wildfires.
Students worked closely with experts in the field to identify the causes and consequences of wildfires.
The team conceived a visually compelling campaign to prepare Californians for the rising threat of wildfires.
The team conceived a visually compelling campaign to prepare Californians for the rising threat of wildfires.