News: Engagement Profile — Denise Heckman
By Francesca Merwin, staff writer
What do the Connective Corridor and the Eiffel Tower have in common? According to Denise Heckman, SU associate professor of art, design and transmedia, they share good design. That’s something that Heckman believes needs a long view to gain appreciation. The best design stands the test of time and evolution. That’s advice she gives to her students, and a reminder to herself. This kind of forward thinking, patient outlook, innovative design and involvement in creative projects, is what makes Denise Heckman the subject of this month’s engagement profile.
Heckman did not intend to go into academia. She worked for a number of years at Hallmark, and then in Seattle during the technology boom when she founded Motive Design Research. Heckman had a friend who suggested that she apply for a position at Syracuse where she could be surrounded by like-minded people who wanted to make change, instead of researching it.
She found Syracuse on a map, flew across the county and fell in love with the changes that were happening in the university and around the city. “I wouldn’t be in academia if these changes didn’t happen, and I wouldn’t have stayed if it wasn’t in Syracuse,” she reflects. “This place really piques my interest.”
Heckman has been here since the inception of the Corridor, and she has engaged students since the beginning of the initiative in developing hands-on creative work which could both enliven the community and become part of a professional portfolio.
“I like doing things with the Corridor because everything is about the students. The Corridor knows how to work with the students,” she says. “Scholarship in Action works best when students are benefiting too.” Heckman works closely with her students to make sure they are getting valuable skills and experience out of their civic engagement projects, and developing subject matter expertise in context-sensitive ways – working side by side with professionals in the community.
Students from Heckman’s classes have developed Connective Corridor billboards, branding, bus wraps and more. She has also collaborated with the Near Westside Initiative and the Urban Video Project on various other student-driven projects. “In any healthy society — and Syracuse is really becoming a healthy society — there are opportunities for creative people,” Heckman says. “I just try to find the opportunities.”
She has many more ideas up her sleeve. One such idea is a smaller scale version of UVP. She’s lending out small projectors to nonprofits and schools to introduce the concept of “projection art.” She tested this idea with some students in a Say Yes to Education program and received positive feedback. She’s working on getting more projectors, working with students to develop original videos, and displaying those pieces as video public art on restaurants and spaces throughout the route of the Connective Corridor.
“I think that people are more amenable to these ideas because of the Corridor,” Heckman maintains. “They’re on the route and they’re interested in doing things that make the community stand out.”
Heckman believes that design projects like these really make a difference in a city, and points to other cities where this is happening. Syracuse is becoming recognized as one of those places, she says.
Creativity can be as big as a video projection and as little as a student ID card. Heckman and her students are working on a concept to change the design on plastic student identification cards. It may seem like a small change, but then, in a classic “aha”moment, will get. And love it.
“Design is tangible and it’s a great way to tell a story,” Heckman explains. “Good design is building a narrative around things you actually build.” And how cool is that.