By Amanda Joerndt
RJ Thompson has been awarded the Governor’s Award through the state of Ohio for his development of the “City of You” project.
The Governor’s Award is given to an individual or organization who develops interactive art participation to bring the community together.
Thompson, assistant professor of graphic and interactive design at Youngstown State University, was one of 66 applicants for the Governor’s Award and was chosen for his work in Youngstown.
In 2016, Thompson had an idea to bring the Youngstown area together by advertising the area in a creative way.
He started the organization “City of You” as part of his mission to make the Youngstown area a more diverse community, which he said provides an outlet for residents to share their stories in the form of about 200 podcasts that show the diversity within the area.
“It is a platform through which all members of the community can be empowered to share the stories of the living, working, playing, learning and thriving in Youngstown — be it as a student, recent transplant, entrepreneur or lifelong resident,” he said.
He said other projects have spiraled from the “City of You” project to help the area and certain issues that are happening.
“Within ‘City of You,’ I’ve been able to hold several exhibitions featuring artwork inspired by members of the communities, live public storytelling and podcasting events,” he said. “Right now I’m in the last phase of the ‘Social Cause Poster Project,’ which is a poster project that shines a light on all the social issues found in Youngstown.”
Thompson said he felt honored to be nominated for an award at this level.
“I was totally stunned. Deeply grateful, honored and humbled by being chosen and by being nominated by members of the Youngstown community,” he said. “This recognition is a great motivator to keep doing the work that I am doing and level it up as far and as fast as I can.”
According to Thompson, he was one of the only nominees to represent northeastern Ohio and wants to inspire his students to better themselves through their work.
“It is imperative to me that my students see, understand and are inspired by the impact that their work can create when you’re designing for the community or people you care about,” Thompson said. “I wouldn’t have been able to get this far without caring about the people of Youngstown, their lived experiences and more.”
He said he hopes to spread his work and success to other areas of the country.
“I am inspired to take what I’ve done in Youngstown and continue to enhance the work locally, but also take the models into other communities across the United States,” he said. “This project helped me find my calling, and I believe that my students can find theirs too through this type of work.”
Andrea Minotti, a junior graphic design major, has had Thompson in a graphic design class at YSU.
“[Thompson] is truly a great professor who always has the best interest in his students in helping them succeed and grow as designers,” she said.
Minotti said the award was well deserved.
“He truly cares about the growth and accompaniments of only only himself, but his students,” she said.
Michelle Gabriel, a senior graphic design major, has had Thompson for various classes and said the passionate he has for his work transfers into the classroom.
“I’m so happy for him for winning the Governor’s Award, I think he’s really earned it,” she said.
For more information on the “City of You” project, visit www.cityofyou.org.