Wieden’s 12: a student’s perspective by Chris Jacobs

I put my head down to write, to draw, to read up on a topic—and when I stop and look up, eight months have passed. I’ve turned 31, paid rent eight times and finally finished The Fountainhead.

12 is a lot of opportunity sandwiched into a finite amount of time. Sometimes I think I’ve got a bead on it, and some of the time I’d be happy waiting tables again and picking up freelance copy assignments.

Last week, a few of us walked with Jelly to City Hall to meet with Portland mayor Vera Katz, who will be leaving her position in January after a dozen years in office. We’re greeted on the fourth floor by mayor-elect Tom Potter, who holds the door open for us—awkward, but nice.

This is our big meeting to present final ideas for our branding project with the city of Portland, our third meeting overall and our first since the mayor’s announcement that she’s been diagnosed with cancer. Mayor Katz is an inspiring woman—straightforward and shrewd but also warm-hearted and attentive. I never want to disappoint anybody with my work, but today that feeling doubles. Maybe triples. It’s hard to measure those things.

The room is stuffy with the dust of importance. I feel trivial. Mayor Katz, a fiery, wise-looking lady from New York, looks more eager than the staffers surrounding her.

Our equipment doesn’t work.

We didn’t bring the right cable. Jelly is talking with the mayor, buying time while shooting us aggravated looks. One of the mayor’s staff members offers up a laptop but doesn’t have the password. The mayor suggests that maybe we reschedule. I’m considering jumping out the window. To our relief, an IT guy swoops down and saves us.

Jelly begins detailing our process. We spent a few exhilarating and frustrating months developing ideas. One popular idea involved attaching roller coasters to Portland’s bridges. This was deemed too expensive. Our big idea arrived in the form of buttons. We decided that what makes Portland compelling is not one thing but hundreds of things. Trees. Bleeding hearts. Hazelnuts. Rain. We made a set of 100 buttons, each with a different word that captured the city’s uniqueness. They would sell for $1 each, with proceeds going to artists’ grants for projects that enhance Portland pride.

A set of buttons moves down the table. Jelly continues speaking, but everyone is busy laughing and picking out their favorites. Mayor Katz picks out the button with “Vera” on it. They’re a hit, and a staff member suggests launching them at a private going-away party for the mayor, who insists that we all attend as her personal guests.

The party is a blast. We eat grape leaves and sip on a limited-run microbrew with Mayor Katz’s image on the bottle. Acrobats dangle from strands of cloth. It reminds me of a scene from a Batman movie. I expect a villain to come crashing in, demanding everyone’s jewelry. The mayor acknowledges us, and I think to myself: Damn, this is rewarding. But I know that in 12, frustration is always close on the heels of success.