Designs for justice, designs for change

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Pat Thompson’s got a tip for How to Fund Your Business Venture: Win the cash on a TV game show. In 2000, she put her sharp brains to work and won $500,000 on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Two hundred thousand went to Uncle Sam, she gave $80,000 to pre-school through college educational funds and used the rest to become part owner of the graphic design agency where she’d worked for the last two years.

Thompson’s work at Triangle Park Creative serves dozens of Twin Cities area nonprofits, co-ops and progressive businesses-the only folks Thompson could consider working for.

“I want to help people whose causes I believe in get noticed and get heard. I couldn’t be the speaker at the rally with the bullhorn, but I can make the poster,” Thompson said over lunch. She’d ordered the vegetarian sandwich because she walks her talk. Her latest interest is in sustainable agriculture and reformed animal husbandry practices. She only eats pork and beef from humane sources.

Thompson’s quiet and creative contribution to social justice causes stems back to her college days in the 1980s. She did everything from voluntary calligraphy for political fundraisers, to teaching herself how to use a typesetting machine in order to print the University of New York at Binghamton’s student paper and political magazines. “And then I taught everyone else how to use it,” she said. That job paid minimum wage-just over $3 an hour at that time; she worked 80 hours a week and got paid for 40.

After leaving that job, Thompson worked in Washington, D.C., doing publications design and production for Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen, then “paste-up” work (“You call it keylining here in the Midwest,” she said) for groups such as NOW, Co-op America, Catholics for Free Choice and the Human Rights Campaign.

After two and a half years, Thompson wanted to be more on the creative end, so she decided to go into advertising copywriting for nonprofits and social justice causes. “I made that decision not realizing there was nowhere you could [get paid] do that work,” she said.

To build her credentials, Thompson relocated to the Twin Cities to attend grad school. While she was working on her master’s degree in mass communications at the University of Minnesota, publishing and design technology changed. She learned to use a Mac much as she’d learned typesetting, and, she said, began freelancing in “desktop publishing, as it is was called then.” Her daughter Ruby was born “during the grad school/freelance transition” and soon Thompson, working from home, had so much work she had to hire another designer. The two designers joined Triangle Park Creative in 1998.

With so much success, why didn’t Thompson go for the gold, and work for companies that could pay her well?

“I have no idea how anyone could ever do that!” She exclaimed. “I guess I’ve never had a for-profit life.” Still, some might say Thompson has something many dream about: The causes and people she cares about come to her door and ask her to work for them. In addition to her paid work, Thompson is a core organizer for the Friends School of Minnesota’s annual plant sale. She calls the event the biggest plant sale in the Midwest, if not the country. Working on the sale is equal to a half-time job: she volunteers about 1,000 hours a year. “It’s fun! It’s a really great group of people. Everybody does what they’re supposed to do, and it gets done for a good cause,” she said.

“Doing something that’s a lot of work and seeing it be successful is inherently satisfying.”

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