Connecting Local Businesses With Creativity And Expertise Of Skidmore Students.
Open Canvas Co-founders Ezra Levy (right) and Marcella Jewell (left) working on the website of their business venture. Photo by Morgan Gruer, Skidmore College Class of 2016.
By Colette Linton
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Two Skidmore College students, juniors Ezra Levy and Marcella Jewell, began working on an idea together last September to create a platform that both students of traditional creative fields and small businesses could approach to pair the skill sets of students with the needs of local companies.
Differing from the usual structure of an internship, the project-oriented approach invites both sides of the transaction to the digital easel, draw up a concise plan detailing the desired outcome, resulting with each party walking away with a piece of finished work in a short time frame.
"It's that kind of short burst experience where you make a lot of connections, get a lot of work done, and you have something to show for it," Levy, Open Canvas co-founder and a student of business and art administration, or "creative entrepreneurship", said. "It is hard for students to graduate with all the skill sets they have learned in the classroom and not having applied them."
The short-term projects allow students to accumulate multiple works to add to their portfolios during their time as college students as opposed to a semester-long internship whose parameters may not be as clearly defined as a project through Open Canvas.
Still in its beginning phases, but wholly operational and successful, Open Canvas had 40 students sign up during its first week of operation. It is currently fostering about 25 projects with numerous projects that have already been completed by students with area businesses.
Students join the Open Canvas community by uploading their profile to its website. On the other end, businesses, students, organizations and nonprofits seeking student participation and or creativity request a "college creative", an online profile outlining the intended project. Levy and Jewell follow up with the college creative form by further developing the project idea one-on-one with its originator. Then, behind the scenes, they undertake the matchmaking process, pairing students with a well-defined project proposal.
Eventually, Levy and Jewell plan for the project to operate without having to manually pair a company's project proposal with a student's application. Students would then be able to apply to projects through Open Canvas' Web application, allowing for Levy and Jewell to focus more of their efforts on developing the business with the intention of expanding their service to include students outside the traditional creative fields. As of now, the focus has been facilitating opportunities for students and filling a need for local businesses.
"What we see as being more beneficial to a student right now is working for the small businesses locally where you can actually make a difference and have something to show for it," Levy said. "I know for me personally, I've worked with a lot of small businesses and nonprofits. I could not have learned anything if I did not have that on-the-ground experience. In a small organization you really get a chance to talk to everyone, and do real things. And that sounds vague and ambiguous, but it should because there are all kinds of stuff to be done and all kinds of stuff that they can trust a student to do."
Political science and computer science student Jewell is the chief operating officer, and co-founder, managing the website design and Web applications for Open Canvas. She said that the project appeals to students on two levels: one being the experience they gain while working on a project in a professional setting; and, two, is that the short-term projects Open Canvas facilitates are more compatible with student schedules.
"One of the reasons this is so attractive to students is because of the short-term burst of experience or project work that is really compatible with their lifestyle," she said. "Because I can have a really busy couple of weeks and a few weeks where I'm not as busy, I want to fill that time with the project that I find."
"We really do believe that Open Canvas will foster relationships and business partnerships that go beyond that initial short-term project, but the connection needs to be made before you can do anything, and we are making that connection for students," she said.
Freshman Nick Konrad, currently undeclared in his studies, is considering committing to a business and studio art major with a concentration in graphic design. He brought with him high school experience making posters for plays and personal projects on his laptop, but after completing three projects through Open Canvas with Greenhouse Salads, Saratoga Shakespeare Company and Skidmore-Saratoga Consulting Partnership, he has gained real-world experience in a field he may pursue as a career without disrupting his class schedule.
"My favorite part of doing Open Canvas projects is getting to work with actual people to create something that would benefit them," Konrad said. "My skills help the business and in turn the experience helps me develop my abilities."
"What's great about Open Canvas is that it makes the initial connection for you, but it's up to you to really go out there and make it work. You are responsible with contacting the business and are held accountable for your actions-in that way it’s very real world. Without Open Canvas I honestly wouldn't even know where to start looking for projects like this," he said.
Barbara Opitz, executive director of Saratoga Shakespeare Company, contacted Open Canvas with a project to create a poster and bookmarks for the nonprofit. It was a project that otherwise would have been costly for the company and required additional assistance from their major supporters. However, through Open Canvas, Opitz met with two Skidmore College students willing to work on the project for a chance to exercise their expertise.
The project was finished in about a week and a half, during which the students were able to relay design ideas directly to Opitz for comment. The relationship that Open Canvas provided both parties was one of flexibility and direct communication between participants without the added supervisory work on the part of businesses that is associated with internships.
"It was a really good connection," she said. "The students are very talented. They are also very knowledgeable in terms of the technology and how to do things and they were very quick about responding to me in terms of doing the work. And I felt that this was a unique way to provide an opportunity for the students and also to help us as a nonprofit because we have a very limited budget. And I will use them again in the future."
Explore for yourself at www.projectopencanvas.com.