In Fall 2019, the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation hosted their 3rd annual Autumn Gala where we raised $5.5 million for our 230 social housing project in the DTES and Chinatown.
work project for the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation
Countdown Events (Event Planners) & Xiaoleen Siow
Art Direction, Illustration, & Graphic Design
For the past 3 years, the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation (VCF) has been hosting its Autumn Gala where they do the majority of their fundraising for their projects. This year, the team was focused on the raising funds for our 230 social housing project, 58 West Hasting, as well as honouring one of the major donor, Robert H. Lee.
As the in-house designer for the VCF, I was tasked with coming up with an art direction for the Gala that both honoured Chinese heritage and Mr. Lee. I was also given the additional constraint, that I couldn’t make the main colour for the event red – which if you know anything about Chinese culture made this task difficult.
Additionally, I was tasked with creating the program and all paper collateral for the event.
Art Direction Research
To be honest, I’ve never done art direction for an event before – let along an event this large. That meant I needed to start with research – so I spent hours poring over the renowned event planner, David Monn’s book: The Art of Celebrating. From that I learned that I needed to focus in on:
who the event was for, both in terms of who was throwing it and who we were honouring
how every detail matters for an immersive experience
there should be sound reasoning behind each major elements you add to the direction
From there, I went to research our Gala Honouree, Robert H. Lee, and interview my boss and daughter of Mr. Lee, Carol Lee, to understand her vision for the event. From talking to Carol and researching Mr. Lee, I came up with three major takeaways:
to focus on classic chinoiserie elements and paintings
the colours of the event need to be of cultural significance and relay fortune and good luck but as well be in line with the Autumn season
to try to embedded elements of love and community, as these were important values to both Mr. Lee and his daughter
Using these as guides, I set off on creating 3 mood boards to be used as art direction for the both the event planner and myself as the event's graphic designer.
4 Art Directions + Hand Off
After combing the web (mostly Pinterest), I presented 4 distinct art directions that were to be vetted by my co-workers, boss, and the event committee. Each direction included cutlery and plating suggestions, floral arrangements, and general props that could be used for the unique themes.
You can find each direction in the gallery below, be sure to click on each image to find the full description.
After much deliberation from my boss and the event committee, Option 1 was chosen and given to the event planners, Countdown Events. Other than communicating my vision and ensuring that we source our props from Chinatown vendors, my role in the event planning and décor was finished, so I moved onto the print collateral design for the event.
Program + Print Collateral Design
Within the chosen mood board, there was one image that our team was particularly drawn to. So much so, it actually became the guiding motif for the event and I was asked to see if I could incorporate it within the program design.
Originally, I created a rough draft directly using this image but due to its low quality and unknown source, I couldn’t use it for the final product. This left me in quite a difficult spot of recreating the image from scratch. Though I am a digital illustrator, the technique to recreate this digitally was not within my ability, so I turned to painting this piece by hand.
Then I scanned the image and brought it onto photoshop, colour corrected it and made minor adjustments to the bird and flowers to better match the original painting. Once this was done, I passed off the assets to the event planners to use in their decorating.
When the art was finalized and approved, I started on type for the program. Though I presented 2 options, the team chose to use the type I had used in the draft program, option 1. I was a little disappointed as I felt that the visual design was not as strong as the other option, but it was a good learning experience in understanding the vision of your client.
This is the final program cover and inside that was created in collaboration with my co-worker, Xiaoleen Siow. While I created the final cover and the draft inside, while Xiaoleen finalized the layouts, as I was out of office for the final weeks before the event.
Other Print Collateral
The bird and flowers were used throughout the gala for all print collateral. Originally all type was to be a deep olive colour, but due to concerns over legibility the type was changed to black.
When I walked into the ballroom, I was amazed! Countdown Events did an excellent job bringing my original mood board to life. From the flower to the chair selection, everything matched/exceeded my original vision.
This was an entirely new experience for me. I have never been to a fancy gala, let alone help art direct one. I had to learn quickly and do a lot of research to even be on the same level as the event planners we were working with – which was a lot of pressure.
Going through this really showed me how flexible and collaborative design could be, even graphic design, as I had to weigh many different opinions. Many times I needed to just give up control and pass on my work to the next person – which can be challenging as a creative because we put ourselves in each thing we create.
There are many things I wish I could’ve changed about the collateral I created. I wish I could’ve had different type or colours – but ultimately what I wanted was not as important was what our audience and my boss needed. This adjustability and being able to let go, is a crucial skill to have as a designer, and something I am consistently re-learning during my time at VCF.
Altogether, it was really an amazing event, not just in décor but in the people who came. There were community members, friends, and big donors, but above all there was a real sense of love in the room. Which fortunately translated to us raising 5.5 Million dollars, 5x the amount we raised the previous year.
I am forever proud to have worked on this Gala: proud of myself, Xiaoleen, Countdown Events, and all our other team members. It really was amazing to see what a small team (and I mean 6 people) can pull together to impact a community!