In this age of austerity, of budget cuts and debt ceilings, the arts are an easy target–often presented as something of a luxury, a nice thing to have a bit of culture, sure, but morally at odds with the hardiness required by times like these. Adam London, co-founder of Public Supply, believes that this is not the opinion of the people. On the contrary, he tells Co.Design, “People understand the inherent value in arts education.” And he has the success of a smartly designed and social-minded line of stationery to prove it.
When London and his partners on the project, Leigh Salem, Brian Smith, and Russell Daiber, launched Public Supply in July, they prefaced the project with a very public mission statement. The Brooklyn-based, for-profit company would donate a quarter of its profits to public school art programs and high-need classrooms in New York. It was immediately evident that consumers were hip to the cause. In fact, London says, they “jumped at the opportunity to support” it.
Paradoxically, Public Supply notebooks bear the pared down aesthetic of austerity-tinged design, consisting of little more than flexible covers and dot paper. (Perhaps the classroom-at-wartime suggestion is an intentional one, with school funding under siege.) They come in a limited number of hues and patterns, each one stamped with a text block containing basic information, like dimensions and paper capacity (96 pages). London cites elementary school composition notebooks and blue books as inspiration.
“We wanted the notebooks to be simple and clean,” he says, adding that the stripped-down presentation offers designers a “blank slate” on which to draw or write or, in the case of an upcoming collaboration with Dutch artists Haas and Hahn, paint over. The Haas and Hahn limited-edition notebook, which ships November 8, will feature an illustration like the ones the pair have used to repaint entire favelas.
Public Supply notebooks enter an impoverished educational reality, where budget cuts have made it difficult for schools to equip classrooms with art materials, from paintbrushes and cameras to even basic staples like pens and paper. London offers statistics that quantify that struggle: Each year, teachers spend about $1.3 billion collectively (about $400 individually) to pay for supplies out of pocket.
In order to direct funds to these very teachers, Public Supply partnered with Donors Choose, a nonprofit organization that strategically determines where to channel gifts. London says it allows his company to “find driven teachers pursuing creative projects they’re passionate about, then read about their ideology and how they’re connecting specific projects to their students’ larger educations.”
So far, sales from the notebooks (and pencils) have helped to stock classrooms all over the city’s five boroughs. Significantly, Public Supply’s supporters are a broad index of New York’s diverse creative and professional community, London says. “We want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to participate.”