Sonia Davis Gutierrez recalls her earliest memory of design, a sensory epiphany that occurred when she was 3 years old: “We were at a state park in San Juan, Puerto Rico,” she says. “It was a jungle, full of tropical plants, little frogs. The place was teeming with life. There was a sign with gorgeous letters, low to the ground. I just remember touching these abstract yellow letter shapes, running my fingers around them.”
Thus began the development of Davis Gutierrez’s “visual vocabulary,” an evolving lexicon that would take her from a childhood led by a meteorologist father from Texas to Puerto Rico to Louisiana to Central Arkansas. Davis Gutierrez continued to be drawn to new terrain, studying at the University of Arkansas and the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain. She attended New York City’s Parsons School of Design, where she soaked up learning in technical and artistic skills along with experience in curriculum development (she helped launch an undergraduate program), and gained additional higher education experience, including a stint in admissions at Monroe College in the Bronx.
Despite the richness of her urban experience, the horror of 9/11 took its toll and brought about a visceral awareness of her mortality. Davis Gutierrez asked herself, “If this is ‘it,’ what do I want to be doing?”
She returned to create change in a rural state that, unlike New York, is in true need of opportunities to learn design.
Davis Gutierrez founded New Design Center in 2005, and the nonprofit organization developed into New Design School, the first institution of its kind in Arkansas. Davis Gutierrez’s vision is now housed in the renovated Fulbright Building, former home of the Fayetteville Public Library, a space luminous with glass walls and skylights that complements the expansive thinking Davis Gutierrez encourages in her students.
New Design School’s official mission is “To teach practical, professional skills to build creativity, technology and business knowledge, savvy and confidence.” One might add, however, that Davis Gutierrez’s goal to empower and guide students toward professional success is fueled by her commitment to nourishing a values-driven community.
“A lot of what I’m doing comes from frustration,” Davis Gutierrez says. “In my own education, I had no idea what the heck was going on in the world. Where is the mayor’s office? Who are my City Council members?” She strives to introduce New Design School students to the issues that are influencing the world around them. “I want them to have the opportunity to do work that has relevancy to what’s going on today,” she stresses.
New Design School prepares students for the full range of professional challenges. But Davis Gutierrez makes sure to include skill-building specifically targeted at supporting small businesses and nonprofit organizations, and she encourages students to do pro-bono work when they can. “I try to help my students maintain an awareness of why they’re doing what they’re doing,” she stresses, “to keep a sense of connection and meaning, to give back.”
Creative Identity Workshops
A workshop meant to “make concrete changes in the quality, innovation, and originality of the work you produce, and watch your creativity impact others in powerful ways.”
New Design School will offer a series of three Saturday workshops to the public. Professionals, artists and anyone interested in the creative process will benefit from these day-long intensives. Through hands-on activities, participants will gain tools to infuse their work with their unique creative vision.
• October 19: Activating Vulnerability
• November 2: Releasing the Inner Critic
• November 16: Embracing Quiet
Each workshop runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., costs $220 for a single workshop, $650 for the series. Information and registration: Contact Sonia at (479) 442-1443 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Pre-registration is required.