Can eight designers bridge the gap between high design and the basic needs of rural Alabamans? To find out, Alissa Walker visits Project M in Hale Country, Alabama.
Main Street in Greensboro, Alabama, feels abandoned. Not just empty-it's as though half the shopkeepers up and left at the end of a business day, and never came back. On this mid-June afternoon, it's not hard to see why. Even the locals agree it's way too hot, and the governor has issued a drought warning, making it a particularly unusual time for the small town of 2,700 to have big-city visitors.Convened here nonetheless is an unlikely group-eight students and recent graduates from across the country with a month to accomplish something meaningful; something that they hope will make a difference for the people of Greensboro and the surrounding Hale County. By day 18 of their stay, however, that "something" is yet to be determined. In a county where 34 percent of children live below the poverty line, a quarter of the residents don't have access to clean drinking water, and the biggest employer is a catfish-processing plant that is rumored to be closing, the team has lots of issues to choose from. The scope of problems here is immense, but a consensus over which to address is nowhere in sight. Further complicating the task is the fact that these students are not budding teachers or architects-they are graphic designers.
|\nThe Rural Studio's Community Center at Mason's Bend in Hale County, Alabama.\n|
|\nA resident of Mason's Bend\n|
|Graphic designers can get too intoxicated by the craft of design.|
|\nGreensboro, Alabama, appears abandoned on a hot summer afternoon.\n|
|\nProject M founder John Bielenberg (bottom right) and his students lived and work together off Main Street in Greensboro.\n|
|\nThe front page of Project M's water meter pamphlet\n|
|\nThe Project M students collate their project by hand.\n|
|\nImages from the water meter project.\n|
|The process has resulted in unique products that merge high design with handicraft.|
|\nThe water meter in question.\n|