Alston Green is a participant in the Intergenerational Media Literacy Program, where seniors and teens are working together to hack and remix commercials with ageist stereotypes. The program is a collaboration by The LAMP, Museum of the Moving Image and OATS, a community which Alston has been part of for many years. We sat down with him to talk about his career as an artist and what he thinks about how older adults are depicted. Read on for Alston’s incredible story:
We hear you used to be an artist with Hallmark Cards. Can you tell us a little more about how you got there and the kind of work you did? My professional career in design began after graduating from Parsons School of Design. Fashion Illustration was my major, however after an in-depth education in fine arts, history and contemporary design, I prepared to embark on varied creative employment options.
My first job was creating illustrative designs for toddlers and children’s wear. I developed a keen understanding of design for engineered garments (also known as “e.g.:) designs on cut parts as T-shirts front and back panels. Working on design wear such as Nik Nik was an excellent match of my illustration background to the commercial design industries. As my interest and passion for fabric design developed, I translated these skills to textile design for women, men’s children, home décor and novelty items. During this timeframe, New York was the epicenter of fashion and, textile designs and I developed a reputation, which led to the recruitment for a career shift with Hallmark Cards Inc.
This career passage provided opportunities for me to soar creatively and professionally. Hallmark, renowned and internationally known as the industry leader in social expression products, left no limits for my creative growth. Here I developed knowledge of product development and marketing initiatives to satisfy consumer needs for personal expression via greeting cards and giftable products. As my industry knowledge flourished, I was given the opportunity to retool Mahogany, Hallmark’s program that targets the African-American consumer.
It started out as a promotion of 20 cards. I increased it to over 600 varieties of everyday and seasonal products. The overhaul and reimaging of this product was a huge achievement for the company, me and the world at large. I explored all creative mediums, fine arts, painting, photography, sculpture and videography. This was primarily for advertisement and it was how I was first introduced to the changing face of design to new media and digital imaging.
How did you get started in your work with young people, and why was that work so important to you? As I matured professionally as well as physically, it became necessary for me to think of ways to reinvent myself and talents, and I decided it was time to share my knowledge and experience with youths.
I was the interim Executive Director of Harlem Textiles, a collaborator while at Hallmark. Alongside Monique Delatour, a Harlem resident and outstanding fiber artist, we developed a program of urban collages inspired by Romare Bearden. The works of these inner city youth were shown at an exhibit held in the Borough President’s office, C. Virginia Fields, who also was responsible for a grant to expand Harlem Textiles operations.
Inspired by this experience of working with youth, I became an adjunct instructor at Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change. Here I worked for a year teaching principles of art and design to middle and high school students. This opportunity whetted my desire to further share my design and industry knowledge. I moved on to School of Visual Arts for a semester, where I taught fashion illustration and textile principles.
What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about seniors, and why do you think they persist? I believe the biggest is that we don’t know what’s hip and current in today’s ever-changing world. This is mostly promoted in my opinion by the limited vision of media, which is dominated by white males who often lack any keenness in diversity of age, race or sexual orientation issues.
Why did you decide to be part of the program? I was very eager to participate in The Intergenerational Media Literacy program as it was my hope to share and learn from young people of today how we can work together to dispel some of the misconceptions about the aging population of today. The teenagers in this program have shown a willingness to share and learn from the members of SAGE Community Center. I believe they have been surprised at how vivacious, witty and youthful our aging population is today.
I think this has been an excellent opportunity to be enlightened by the ever-changing world of digital technology. This collaboration shows both the seniors and youth how messages via this medium can be misleading. This is critical especially with corporations who want to sell their products to ensure healthy profits.
What do you think needs to change in order for stereotypes about seniors to fall away? The largest missteps I see in today’s marketing is the limited knowledge of the continual growth of diversity in our society and how it is important to place aside personal biases, myths and ideologies. This is a huge responsibility of the media. There needs to be a dialogue between young and older ages, ideas, traditions etc. Until we arrive at this juncture we will continue to see advertisement that can be offensive, inaccurate and not portraying a specific audience properly.