For almost 100 years, International House has fostered a diverse and inclusive community for graduate students and alumni in NYC. Through housing, resident programs and events, I-House empowers residents to become the next generation of globally-minded leaders.
Audrey Pray, Jr., Creative Lead and alumna of I-House, supports resident initiatives and events through design and videography. She works with various departments throughout the organization to create a memorable experience for residents, engage alumni and communicate the I-House brand globally.
As the organization’s first in-house creative professional, Audrey had the monumental task of familiarizing herself with all of I-House’s digital assets from the past nine decades.
“We had a shared drive called the P Drive, which stood for ‘Photo Drive,’ but it was honestly a digital jungle. It had things from all over the organization’s 96-year history. There were lots of photos, but there were also word documents and Excel sheets,” says Audrey.
Audrey began curating her own selection of frequently-used images, but knew this workaround wasn’t sustainable for the long term.
“I started to create my own little photo bucket. I realized some photos were always being asked for, so instead of going through the jungle again to get those photos, I would keep them on my desktop in a folder… which wasn’t the most secure place.” says Audrey.
As I-House approached its 100th anniversary, the team looked towards their archives as a potential gold mine for visual storytelling – but they needed a way to safely store, access and share their assets.
“We have been around for almost 100 years and have all of these assets from our past, but had nowhere to safely store all them. It actually was to the point where some of our physical assets were deteriorating from time,” says Audrey.
With their previous system, it was difficult for the team to get the assets they needed, let alone share externally.
“We have wonderful events and hire an amazing photographer, but it was hard to share the photos with our residents. They’d have to physically come into the office with a flash drive to download the photos. It was paramount to me that we be able to share photos with our residents, so that they can have proof to share with their own family and friends about their I-House experiences of performing at an event or speaking with a special guest.”
I-House’s lead archivist, Caroline Donadio, led the search for DAM solutions, pulling together an internal team from across the Communications, IT, and Operations departments. Caroline sought a flexible platform that could be both a repository for digitized archival material, and act as an interactive space for staff to organize, manage, and store working digital assets. After evaluating a few solutions, I-House chose Canto for its ease of use, strong tagging capabilities and other features that would streamline access and support the creative workflow.
“I really liked the intentionality of our meetings with the Canto team; they understood it was going to be a process because our organization has generations of employees with different technical backgrounds. We wanted a platform that would be easy to teach the whole organization how to use, and make using the P Drive a thing of the past. Canto’s interface is visually pleasing, intuitive and easy to understand for both people who feel comfortable with technology and people who don’t,” says Audrey.
“The tags were key for us; we would not have chosen anything without a strong level of tagging. And as a designer, I’m also excited about a few features: facial recognition, crop and resize abilities, version control and the Photoshop integration. I like that Canto’s system has a strong understanding that there are multiple layers to one asset.”
I-House stores all of its photos, videos and brand assets on Canto. With a centralized, organized destination for visual assets, the team can work more quickly and continue their momentum even as the New York stay-at-home order to combat coronavirus takes the organization remote.
Fast search, simplified workflow
Audrey loves how Canto has cut out a lot of the tedious steps in her former content workflows. Finding assets has transformed from an overwhelming, time-consuming process to a quick search and retrieve.
“The search feature is going to save a lot of time for me. For instance, if I’m designing something for Black History Month and looking for an event photo from previous years, I can simply type in ‘Black History Month,’ and come up with the photos. Before Canto, I literally had a folder labeled ‘African-American events’ on my desktop that I was manually putting photos into,” says Audrey.
Canto has also completely simplified the way Audrey manages event images from their external photographer, Leandro Viana.
“After an event, Leandro would send us beautiful, high res photos – gigantic files – with a WeTransfer link. I would have to download the photos and upload to our P Drive. Then, our digital media fellow would take those photos, upload them to Facebook and Dropbox, and then share those links to residents. There was a lot of cooking in that kitchen,” says Audrey.
“That process of having to download from the photographer’s link and then upload doesn’t need to happen anymore. That is going to take a lot of time off my plate, and it’s also going to be a lot lighter on our hardware.”
With the entire content workflow pared down to a simple, quick process, other employees throughout the organization can also have the same unlimited access to all photos. The internal team is getting familiar with sending and opening Canto links, while Audrey has set up portals for residents and other external stakeholders.
“Before, when my colleagues asked for assets, I would have to go to the P drive, download them, upload them somewhere else, and give them a link to it. With Canto, I can create a portal or an album of those photos and send them directly to people, which is really game-changing,” says Audrey.
Audrey is also thrilled that she can create a style guide in Canto to give the team quick access to all brand assets and guidelines.
“The capability to create a style guide that is understandable and easily shareable with our staff is really helpful. I’m really excited about our style guide in Canto that empowers staff to align with the brand,” says Audrey.
Bridging the distance during the pandemic
With the recent transition to remote work due to the coronavirus pandemic, the I-House team can still get the assets they need with their cloud-based library in Canto.
“If we didn’t have Canto at this moment, it would’ve made our projects a lot harder. Our previous P Drive could not be accessed remotely, which meant that we would have been without access to photos to create designs. This would have been very problematic from a design standpoint. I am so grateful that we already had Canto set up so that we can access assets virtually during this time,” says Audrey.
The team is also finding ways to connect their resident and alumni community virtually despite social distancing, and Canto helps to support these special projects.
“Every year when residents are graduating, we host a ceremony called Candlelight Sunday Supper. We’re not able to do it this year due to the pandemic, so it’s been a challenge for us to figure out how to give Residents a sense of closure. It’s a very special ceremony because it’s the moment where people transition from residents to alumni and realize that, even though they are departing from I-House, they still get to be a part of a much bigger community for the rest of their lives,” says Audrey.
“I’m working with the programs and alumni relations staff to collect video entries by using Canto upload links to create a bit of a graduation experience. That’s one of the most exciting ways that we’re using Canto right now, to keep our traditions going even when we can’t be physically together.” I-House is a non-profit that exists to build community. We are very grateful to have a system like Canto to help us remain connected to our memories and create new ones during these trying times.
For Audrey personally, Canto has cut down on time spent managing assets, which means more time to do work that serves I-House’s residents.
“The biggest benefit of Canto for me is saving time. Being the sole designer in the organization, photos and assets are just one part of a very busy to-do list. Spending hours to search for photos takes away from time I can spend on actually creating the material,” says Audrey.
Canto enables Audrey and the rest of the I-House team to double down on their bottom line: creating lasting connections and memories for their residents, and empowering their residents to carry these experiences with them for the rest of their lives as they go on to change the world.
“Our overall goal is to create a global community for our residents that they can value for the rest of their lives, and to encourage them to live out our values of respect, empathy and moral courage. Helping them keep their memories of this time and retain them wherever they go is key for us,” says Audrey.
“I’m also an alumna, so it’s really touching when we hear from alums and they want to come back to the house. They care about how residents are doing now, especially in this time – it means a whole lot.”