Edition 21—Stephen Cronin
A Family That Spreads
Of all things, t-shirts are what brought Stephen Cronin to Artists For Humanity’s doors.
Introduced to the program through a family friend who had previous children involved in the program, Cronin came to AFH in search of their Screen Printing Studio.
“I think I just walked in and asked,” he said, recalling his determination at joining the studio and the subsequent details he learned about the program. “They told me the Screen Printing Studio was typically not a studio for youth to join however Claudia De Piante Vicin, the Design Director at the time, explained they had a graphic design department that did design work for the Screen Printing Studio.”
Cronin took interest in the Graphic Design Studio’s extensive work and decided to continue with the program. This marked the beginning of an AFH journey that would inspire a life and a career.
Cronin remembers his first day at AFH as one that every participant goes through upon the acceptance of their application. An orientation tour, followed by an apprenticeship training in the Painting Studio on the third-floor, where teens are given a box of supplies and an easel.
“I definitely remember SWAT [Jason Talbot],” Cronin said, noting how the warmth of the welcome and the people are what stood out most about his first impression. “He was very friendly and open, he made me feel very welcome. I think I was pretty shy back then and a little nervous but already on that first day, SWAT came over and said ‘What’s up?’”
Cronin’s stint in the Painting Studio was brief. While all teens are required to complete a 36-hour apprenticeship training, he found himself taking the initiative and going to speak with Claudia about transferring to the Graphic Design Studio.
“My interests were in other departments,” he said, citing his motivation to move to another studio as realizing an incompatibility with other mediums. “They use mostly acrylics in painting. The only painting medium I enjoyed in the past was watercolor which was not widely used in the studio.”
While a member of the Graphic Design Studio, Cronin found familiarity as well as novelty. While he had always been interested in computer graphics and digital art, experimenting with Adobe Suite since he was 14, the client work provided by AFH lent a new light to his work while refusing to compromise the creative integrity behind it.
“Throughout high school, I was very interested in tech and design, so I naturally would make digital art and graphics. In the graphics studio, we had some free-form work, including designing the annual holiday cards, but a majority of our work was client work.”
Of the several client projects that Cronin collaborated on, one stands out in particular. A project for The Plumbing Museum, AFH was hired to design the interior of the space.
“It was one of our biggest projects, it took the entire studio a few months work. We did the design as well as the installation of all the graphics. The job allowed us to carry a project from the beginning to the very end. It was really cool and eye-opening.”
This project, one that Cronin cites as one that he is particularly proud of, still pales in comparison to the pride he feels about his AFH experience as a whole. “The overall experience made me really proud because I learned a wide breadth of skills here.” After graduating from Boston Latin School in 2010, Cronin attended Parsons School of Design in New York City for one year. The following summer, he returned to Boston and mentored at AFH as an assistant mentor in the Graphic Design Studio before returning to New York in the fall to do freelance work and eventually getting hired full time at a web agency. The next few years were spent at multiple jobs as a web developer, marking a period of time that Cronin began actively seeing the results of what he learned at AFH.
“I think I had a good eye for design and AFH let me practice that skill,” he said. “I think the biggest things I learned were the process of a project and how to work with clients. Throughout my professional career that followed, I noticed that my experience working with clients stood out. It was not a skill people necessarily learned in a traditional college path to a web development profession.”
Without AFH, Cronin believes that his life—and his career path—may have been very different.
“I’m not sure I would have pursued art as much,” he said, noting how he had been interested in physics during high school and thought of studying it in college for a time. “I did have an arts interest before but AFH really helped me express it. I don’t think I would have landed a job without a college degree without AFH’s help.” While he found the practical skills he gained at AFH to be invaluable, Cronin also credits much of his AFH journey to AFH’s mission of bringing people together, forming a strong community and fostering sustainable relationships.
“I joined when I was 14 and everyone’s life changes a lot in four years,” he said. “For me, I made tons of friends through AFH and there are generations of AFH teens. I think it’s a very positive thing. People always have ties to it.”
Cronin is still in contact with many of the friends he met through AFH and many of the fondest memories he has of the program are made through the connections developed there. This, the ability to have creative freedom while learning the values of having a job, and what he learned about himself are a formative part of his life and is what makes AFH so special to him.
After moving to NYC eight years ago, Cronin had spent his time working as a web designer at web agencies, startups, and editorial websites including Code and Theory, HYPERHYPER, The Intercept, The Outline, and Reaktor Inc. working with many renowned designers in the web industry. During his free time, he’d enjoyed creating projection artwork and practicing calligraphy. He has received calligraphy training through public workshops at Type@Cooper and Society of Scribes.
As AFH turns 30 this year, Cronin expresses his surprise. “I hadn’t really put the thought into how many years it’s been around. I think it’s amazing!” Since Cronin was a teen, the Graphic Design Studio has grown three times in size. Not only that, but Cronin himself has come full circle and returned to AFH, this time as a mentor.
“In the past couple years, I’ve had an interest in creative coding. Making artwork with code and all that,” Cronin said. Having always harbored a desire to teach teens to code, the pandemic was the push Cronin needed to move away from big companies and give back. In September 2020, he came back to AFH and started the Creative Technology Studio.
“Tech is in everything now! I’m really trying to make [the studio] open and push the teens to find what they want to do.”
Cronin believes that the skillset the Creative Technology Studio offers has the power to bring artistic visions to life and hopes that the studio’s projects will encourage collaboration with other studios.“The happiest I’ve been at work is when I pair up with another designer and help someone else’s idea come to fruition.”
In recent months, The Creative Technology studio has explored topics such as web development/design, and they are currently working on the new website for Boston Arts Academy and Boston Arts Academy Foundation. In the near future, Cronin hopes the studio will continue to expand and that he can help teens find careers that they love in creative technologies. “The dream,” he said, “is to have teens from my studio working in the field.”
Written by Grace Yuh, Jane Elmets, and Casey Chiang