Bailey Steele

Steele poses in front of an original mural she painted at Spitzer Art Center in downtown Harrisonburg. 

Strolling by the variety of shops downtown Harrisonburg has to offer, one will find an artists’ niche. Discovering a messy and colorful table of supplies, art screens strewn about, displays of talented design work and the latest hits playing over the speakers, JMU alumna Bailey Steele (’15) knew The Mark-It screen printing and embroidery shop was the perfect place to begin her career after graduation. Now a successful graphic designer for the New York City-based nonprofit, the Center for Active Design, Steele has pursued a passion for her work. Excited that it would be made public for the community to enjoy, Steele happily agreed when The Mark-It asked to display her art once again.

“It was a great job and I really had a great time working there, being able to show up to work in your gym shorts and get messy,” Steele said. “It’s a great place on Earth and was definitely one of my favorite jobs.”

Majoring in graphic design at JMU, Steele was compelled to work somewhere she could showcase her talents. The print shop recently held a show as part of the Arts Council of the Valley’s First Fridays Downtown event featuring artwork that she left behind in Harrisonburg. 

“It’s work that somehow added up to represent this time in my life in Harrisonburg, which was all these works that I had created within the last two years of my time there,” Steele said. “It was fun to see some old work resurface that I hadn’t thought about in a while.”

In “Prints From the Years without Sleep,” Steele’s work includes vibrant and funky designs of everyday objects such as salt and pepper shakers with polka dots or a collection of mismatched objects like books, a fish bowl and a knife, allowing each colorful aspect to create a brand-new meaning. Others show more abstract and energetic yet cohesive designs, like a can exploding into a cloud of shapes and patterns. 

“Bailey is a supremely positive person with a great attitude,” Jeff Guinn, owner and manager of The Mark-It, said. “She seems to really take the time with her design work to have a dialogue with the client. It’s nice to be able to show the work of someone who has worked here before.”

After graduating, Steele remained in Harrisonburg for a year and continued to work at The Mark-It. Then, she moved to New York for a three-month internship with a design firm. At the same time, she was given a position as an administrative assistant for the Center for Active Design. There, she produced many different designs for posters, slide decks for presentations and marketing collateral and was offered her current position as the only full-time designer.

“I realize that I embody a life of many privileges which allow me to move freely and I don’t want to erase the struggles many native New Yorkers face on a daily basis,” Steele said. “But I suppose my transition to New York was smooth because the extra year I spent in Harrisonburg gave me plenty of time to mentally prepare.” 

The Center For Active Design strives to use design to promote a healthy lifestyle. As their only graphic designer, Steele takes on a lot of responsibility. 

“I get all sorts of projects thrown my way, so it’s been a good, challenging environment,” Steele said. “I especially think it’s always interesting to create a logo from scratch, and just all the conversation that goes into that. You get one chance to hit people with some sort of emotion or feeling.”

Involving herself in personal projects, Steele assists in running a newsletter for the group New York City For Abortion Rights by making flyers and is currently helping a friend in Richmond, Virginia, to create an LGBTQ community-building website. 

Professor Dawn McCusker, coordinator for the graphic design program, taught Steele in advanced typography and senior graphic design portfolio courses. Proud of Steele’s success, McCusker never had a doubt that her former student would endeavor such prosperous opportunities in New York City.

“She was always a passionate student,” McCusker said. “I know she is doing a lot of social awareness and social justice projects, which is wonderful. I mean, that’s just who Bailey is. She wants to design for good and to have a voice. We always teach our students just how powerful graphic design can be and when visual communication is effective it can reach so many people. Bailey has been able to take that education and apply it.”

As a graduate of the School of Art, Design and Art History at JMU, Steele believes it’s important that more creators take on artistic careers. While some may say that studying visual arts is unrealistic, she argues people should explore their creative passions.

“I think we need as many visual thinkers working as possible at this political moment,” Steele said. “There are so many voices and messages that need to be heard. Creating a visual language around those ideas will help amplify an emotional response, which is undoubtedly a force for change.”

Contact Traci Rasdorf at rasdortl@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.

Traci Rasdorf is a Culture Editor at The Breeze from Alexandria, Virginia. She’s a junior media arts and design major with a concentration in Journalism and a minor in Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication.