CUP’s projects vary greatly, but most provide practical advice to groups who lack access to civic policy information: immigrants, public-housing residents, and at-risk youth, to name a few. The goal is to help constituents better advocate for their needs. CUP doesn’t rest once the design phase is complete—the group also organizes community sessions and school workshops in order to help build an engaged citizenship.
CUP was formed in 1997 by Designer and artist Damon Rich and seven cofounders with diverse backgrounds in graphic design, architecture, history, public policy, and political theory. The goal was to investigate the basic workings of New York City infrastructure and bureaucracy. At first, their findings were published in a zine and presented in art installations. After becoming a nonprofit organization in 2002, Rich and fellow cofounder Rosten Woo started creating structured collaborations with CUP’s growing network of artists and policy experts. In its first real partnership with a community organization, CUP made educational videos for Public Housing Residents of the Lower East Side (PHROLES) to use at its meetings.
Today, under the direction of Christine Gaspar, CUP is a production company of sorts, matching artists and designers with civic professionals and public school teachers, working closely with all parties to ensure that the posters, brochures, and multimedia toolkits are are well designed and useful.
Throughout the year CUP runs several community education and youth education programs, all of which emphasize collaborative design and the use of visuals to break down complex issues. An annual highlight is Making Policy Public, when CUP produces a series of four foldout posters. Past posters have included “I Got Arrested! Now What?”, a collaboration with the Center for Court Innovation and graphic novelist Danica Novgorodoff that helps teenagers navigate the maze of New York’s juvenile justice system, and Vendor Power!, a collaboration with nonprofit group The Street Vendor Project and artist Candy Chang that decodes the byzantine regulations governing New York’s 10,000 street vendors.