Ari Elefterin has never been one to, well, ‘blend in.’
Last fall, you’d have been hard-pressed to miss the senior Graphic Design major as she cut a kaleidoscopic swath across the Charles River Campus for four straight days clad as a glorified human crayon – part of an experiment in color to see which emotions each different head-to-toe daily hue elicited from classmates and within herself. Just months earlier, Elefterin was again turning heads as she led a classmate through the city wearing an outsize teacup over his head and passing out flyers, a video project this time in political messaging and stereotypes.
“I think art communicates emotions in a way that’s both timeless and universal,” says Elefterin (CFA ’13). “It is the biggest medium for social change. It offers an intimacy that can’t be realized through other forms of communication.”
For Elefterin, 22, sparking conversation is as central to her striving as a young artist as creating color, her high-visibility tableaus spanning a broad spectrum of space design, multimedia and performance work, photography and choreography. A show she led with classmates last November for BU’s Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism, titled “Self,” about identity and storytelling, vividly explored the meaning behind words like ‘drive,’ ‘worth,’ and love.’ If Elefterin, however, has grown accustomed to drawing attention for arresting visuals, so, too, she has stood out throughout her time at BU as both a student and citizen.
A native of Canton, OH, Elefterin arrived on campus a little over two years ago as a transfer student from Denison University, a small, well-regarded liberal arts school outside Columbus, where she’d been studying visual and performing arts on scholarship. But what Denison offered in intimacy and artistic creation, Elefterin says she was left wanting in diversity and exposure to broader curricula and real-world learning opportunities beyond the confines of campus. Elefterin, who comes from a family of artists and arts educators, had visited BU as a freshman, staying with a friend here, and was instantly smitten by the vibrancy of the city setting. So, two weeks before the transfer deadline as a sophomore, she applied to the College of Arts & Sciences (CFA at that point required a portfolio heavy in painting – not her concentration) and was quickly accepted. She switched soon after to the College of Fine Arts, minoring in Art History. “The opportunity for academic variety CFA offered really appealed to me,” she says. “I really enjoy being able to take liberal arts courses, and I wanted to be able to experience different kinds of people.”
With characteristic Midwestern friendliness and humility, Elefterin downplays her accomplishments at BU. She has, however, by all accounts, thrived since arriving, earning the respect of classmates and the acclaim of professors in the short time she’s been here. Elefterin serves as president of BU’s chapter of AIGA (the national organization of graphic designers), secured a Dean’s Scholarship from CFA, and last year won a Harold C. Case Scholarship, the first CFA student in recent memory chosen for the award, which honors rising seniors for academic and extra-curricular achievement.
It’s been through volunteer work that Elefterin says she’s garnered some of her greatest reward. As a junior, Elefterin joined a classmate in piloting a partnership studio project between BU and the Dorchester Youth Academy, an alternative middle school for students with discipline or family problems. There, Elefterin and her classmate led workshops for about a dozen boys, walking through city neighborhoods and parks and using disposable cameras to teach the basics of photography, from line and form to portraiture, darkroom developing, and lomography, the manipulation of photography through various filters. The students’ work was later featured in a special art show at BU, and Elefterin has worked to continue that collaboration through additional projects, from the University’s current show on sustainability, to an April fundraiser that will auction off artwork her CFA classmates created in response to the Dorchester students’ photos. “We really connected with some of these students. Some of the work they did was amazing, and some of their perspectives were very interesting,” she says. “It was an extremely rewarding experience. If nothing else, I felt like I had helped them build confidence in their abilities.”
It helped to strengthen something within Elefterin, as well: a desire to help others realize and nurture their own passion for art, whether wielding a paintbrush, camera or keyboard. As graduation approaches, Elefterin understands the economics of the arts and says she’ll likely pursue commercial design work that enables her to make a living and establish industry connections. Already, her internship work has included everything from designing Fashion Week events for North Andover-based Converse, to rebranding the Allston logo for the City of Boston’s MainStreets projects.
Still, she says she can’t envision a career in the arts without using her work to continue pushing for social change or passing along her passion to others through teaching. Her hope: to return to graduate school in a couple of years and become a college professor with her own multidisciplinary design studio. “Intellectualism is sometimes lost in the art world, I think,” she says. “The way my soul operates, I need the art and to be able to think about it and to communicate with young people.”