Hoya Highlight: Kevin McMahon (C'94)

Kevin McMahon (C'94)

Founder, Art Heroes

Describe your current position and what led you to your job.

I am a full-time instructor of design and the founder of Art Heroes, a nonprofit initiative that connects a growing community of +120 design instructors and their students with nonprofit agencies in need of creative work (logo, posters, websites, etc.). Basically, students get to develop their portfolios with real-world clients while nonprofits get valuable, high-quality design work for free. So, everybody benefits.

The impetus behind Art Heroes was the recognition for two design education problems. First, I had an increasing number of students who wanted to apply to art school but didn't have enough work or any real-world experience to showcase. Second, more and more local nonprofits were calling me looking for a design student to help them with projects. So last year, it finally occurred to me that I was not the only one having these experiences and there should be a place where design educators or nonprofits could connect and help each other.

Describe the transition from being an Olympic athlete to teaching in the classroom and then launching your own business simultaneously.

Being an Olympic athlete was a wonderful experience. I truly value relationships and memories that were formed in that chapter of my life. However, while I was training at Georgetown, I become increasingly aware that sports didn't really help solve the world's great challenges. (Even if I broke the world record, it was not going to feed the hungry, better the education system, etc.) And honestly, this bothered me. So I decided to become a teacher to help effect positive change in the most direct way I could. Additionally, I felt a profound sense of gratitude for the teachers and professors who took the time to change my life. As such, I feel that being an educator is my way of paying it forward.

Art Heroes was a natural evolution of my desire to make a difference. While there has been a lot to learn, it has been incredibly rewarding to help others use their artistic abilities to better the world.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

In the first couple months of Art Heroes, I connected a design student with a nonprofit who wanted to create a resource packet for underprivileged parents of newborns. As a new parent myself, it was great to help out this cause and these families. But what also struck me was the fact that the nonprofit was in Alberta, Canada, and the student designer lived in Boston. It's this global quality of Art Heroes—that a good designer can help important causes around the world—that I find really rewarding.

I will also be inducted into the Georgetown University Athletic Hall of Fame this March.

What was the most useful advice you have received?

On my first day of art class at Georgetown, Professor Conley said, "Some of you have talent, some of you know how to work hard. By the end of these four years, those of you who work hard will far surpass those who merely have talent." It was a great message to me then, and now.

Describe the most challenging moment in your career.

As an athlete, getting injured can be a soul-searching, life-changing event. I battled through a few seasons with injuries, but I am glad for the patience and recognition of greater purpose that it provided me. When you are sitting in an ice bath instead of training on the field, you finally get a moment to pause and recognize your identity beyond athletics.

As the founder of an unprecedented initiative, there was a lot of work to do, including design, operations, communications, fundraising and more, and starting out can be really overwhelming. And things didn't always go smoothly or on time. To be honest, more than once, I thought about just pulling the plug. But then another enthused design student would sign up or another nonprofit would post a great job opportunity, and I was reminded of the real good this initiative can do.

What would you recommend to someone interested in working in your field?

Remind yourself why you started this career and focus on the part of your job you love doing all of the time. It's easy to get distracted by the grind or what might initially be perceived as a failure. If you give that your energy, then it's really hard to keep moving forward.

Also, keep in touch with the lives you have changed through your work. It seems to me that the best part of teaching (and life) is forming great relationships, and the added effort to maintain these relationships is well worth it.

Describe any upcoming projects you look forward to in your business.

I have three major projects that I'd love to develop for Art Heroes:

  1. Art Heroes Academy.  I'd want to create a definitive design curriculum to help student designers succeed.
  2. Art Heroes Alliance. I want to partner with a few print and web services that could offer Art Heroes' nonprofit clients a significant discount on the cost of producing or hosting the final design work.
  3. Pro Hero Mentors. I'd love to create a mentorship program that allows talented students to get personal mentoring from an industry professional to help guide them through projects and prepare them for the creative industry.

How did your time at Georgetown University influence you and your career path?

Art Heroes is essentially a Jesuit approach to design education. We use our God-given artistic talents and put them at the service of others in need. Georgetown played a huge part in both my desire to help others and my love for art education.