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‘Art Is ...’: Gail Anderson and Zipeng Zhu on Their New SVA Subway Campaign
September 11, 2020 by Rodrigo Perez
A poster with a colorful type-based design that says "Art Is!"

The fall 2020 SVA subway poster, "Art Is," created by BFA Advertising and BFA Design Chair Gail Anderson (BFA 1984 Media Arts) and art director, designer, animator and illustrator Zipeng Zhu (BFA 2013 Design).

It’s a "semi-long story," they say, but the simple version is this: Earlier this year, BFA Advertising and BFA Design Chair and Visual Arts Press Creative Director Gail Anderson (BFA 1984 Media Arts) was asked to design the latest SVA subway poster. Not long after, in March, she and fellow alumnus and friend Zipeng Zhu (BFA 2013 Design) were both in Woodstock, New York, for a long weekend when the COVID-19 pandemic descended on the city, state and country, upending life as we knew it.


That long weekend turned into an ongoing, six-months-and-counting stay upstate, during which Zhu collaborated with Anderson on the project. The end result: a colorful, type-based subway poster and social-media campaign that carries on the College's long-running "Art Is ..." series. With the start of the 2020 – 2021 academic year at SVA, Anderson and Zhu say, "Art Is Back."

Anderson and Zhu recently answered questions about their collaboration and goals for the project. They also sat for a long-form video interview, created for SVA’s virtual Fall 2020 Orientation, about their working relationship, friendship, backgrounds, the challenges of working during quarantine (including coming across some bears!) and much more. Check out both below.

How did this collaboration come about? 

Gail Anderson: [SVA Executive Vice President] Tony Rhodes asked me to work on the fall 2020 subway poster quite a while back, and as the world turned upside down late this past winter, I scrapped what I'd started. Something extra-lively and upbeat seemed necessary to help perk up dark subway platforms across the boroughs. I wanted to really celebrate the "Art Is ..." copy line; art is so many things right now, including back. Art is back in the city, and SVA is back. 


My friend and former student Zipeng Zhu came up to my house in Woodstock for a long weekend in early March and ended up hunkering down here for the last six months. I love to collaborate and who better to jump on board for something bold, colorful and optimistic than Zipeng? 


Zipeng, what was it like working with your teacher, mentor and friend on an SVA Subway poster? 

Zipeng Zhu: Gail and I have been working together on and off many times in the past few years, though we haven't been sitting next to each other and working for quite some time. It's really great that not only do we get to have instant response and feedback from each other right away, but also we get to bounce the idea back and forth really quickly. This poster is honestly the great combination of our strengths and aesthetics. It's a true collaboration! 

A video still picturing two people sitting side by side in front of a map-based artwork.

A still from an SVA Fall 2020 Orientation video featuring art director, designer, animator and illustrator Zipeng Zhu (BFA 2013 Design) and Gail Anderson (BFA 1984 Media Arts), chair of BFA Advertising and BFA Design and creative director of the Visual Arts Press, SVA's in-house design studio.

Given that subway ridership is down these days, are you doing anything special to get the word out?

ZZ: We were very aware of the potential limitations since a lot of people aren't riding the subway. Therefore we put a lot of energy and effort into the digital component of this campaign. We have an animated poster for online, and we've also created lots of social-media content featuring faculty, staff and students from different majors. We even made a face filter for anyone who wants to join our campaign! 

What were the biggest challenges you faced? 

GA: The plan is to extend the poster into an online campaign that we've been chipping away at over the summer with the Visual Arts Press. There's a lot to celebrate at SVA—our diverse faculty and staff, as well as the resilience of our students. The biggest challenge is time, time, time. Things are changing every day as we gear up to start the semester, and of course, we're connecting on Zoom rather than tossing ideas back and forth in person. It was easy and natural to work with Zipeng since he was literally on the other end of the couch. It's a little harder to collaborate in scheduled blocks of time, and online—but lemonade from lemons, people. We’ve got this. 

One of the strengths of SVA as an institution is its faculty of practicing professionals, which gives students the opportunity to build industry connections and mentorships while working toward their degrees. To find out more about Anderson and Zhu's friendship and collaborations, watch their SVA Fall 2020 Orientation video below.