• Transform magazine
  • September 27, 2021

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Mama Foundation For the Arts rebrands to nurture voices in African-American culture and arts

Mama Foundation 1

Harlem-based arts organisation, Mama Foundation For the Arts, worked with NYC-based brand design studio, ThoughtMatter, to revitalise its historic brand in an attempt to nurture new voices in African-American culture and arts.

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Founded by Vy Higginsen​ and named after her co-created international musical Mama I Want to Sing, Mama Foundation needed an identity that was as unique and heartfelt as their mission. Having grown and evolved with its new offerings and programming, the foundation also needed a better way to organise and communicate all that it does in the most straightforward way possible.

“As NYC locals, we wholeheartedly believe in championing our neighborhoods and are very focused on supporting the youth and arts in NYC. Over the years, we’ve done our best to uplift many vital cultural cornerstones, helping them refine or define their voices. It’s only fitting that we do the same for Mama Foundation, a group that has similarly dedicated themselves to giving performers a platform to grow and find success,” says ThoughtMatter creative director, Ben Greengrass.

ThoughtMatter began by having conversations with all stakeholders of the foundation, speaking with everyone from vocalists who have been a part of the organisation for years, to instructors and even Vy Higginsen and her daughter. The ThoughtMatter team listened to stories and experienced their performances through Zoom in order to paint a clearer picture of the future of the foundation.

These workshops revealed the importance of open, uplifted arms in gospel music. Bringing these insights to their designs, ThoughtMatter set out to mirror this visual representation of joy, the act of projecting one’s whole self and one’s voice, by using an exclamation point. This symbol became an anchor for the new brand; an expression that seeks to command attention and acts as the visual manifestation of Mama Foundation’s promise to be seen and heard.

 

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The symbol of an arched window served a similar purpose in the new identity. “Harlem is my neighborhood so I know firsthand that when you walk around on a Sunday morning, all you’ll hear are sounds of celebration coming from behind those windows. These windows provide a view into the history, the advancement, and the joy in Mama’s house” says Greengrass.

Paired with vibrant colours and photography, both the exclamation point and arch were used as graphic devices across signage, the website and show posters.

“Sharing stories can provide access, education, and preservation and the act of sharing a story builds relationships and creates conversations. Design is the tool used to share that story," says Jessie McGuire, managing director at ThoughtMatter.

"Through design, symbolism and language, we were able to introduce their audiences to aspects of the brand they may have not otherwise been familiar with, like their Harlem legacy and the commitment to preserving and presenting black musical art forms. The end result is a brand that is an authentic representation of the Mama Foundation and its singular spirit," she adds.