Meet the team behind the world’s largest merit badge mosaic

What can happen when creative people take on Scouting’s inspiring message? Let me put together the pieces for you.

But first, you must check out this video. Like the 3,000 people who watched it in its first week online, you’ll see how the world’s largest merit badge mosaic took shape.

How big is it? The finished product measures 19 feet tall and 13 feet wide, contains 12,060 merit badges, and took three days to create. Wow.

When I first saw it last week, I went in search of the story behind this one-of-a-kind project.

I tracked down the responsible parties. Turns out it was a collaboration between the Northern Star Council and the Martin Williams ad agency  — both based in Minneapolis-St. Paul. They agreed to give me the behind-the-scenes scoop.

But before I tell you how the project came together, I wanted to share why it was created.

The theme of the Northern Star Council’s 2010 Annual Report is “It’s Bigger Than Badges.” What does that mean?

The report’s opening page explains it best:

Let us begin by saying Scouting is not about collecting badges. It’s about collecting the lessons, experiences and relationships that shape your life. Behind each small, round patch is a story with infinite endings. One by one, these stories come together to form the person who writes them — confident, courageous and prepared to make a difference in the world.

Those words resonate in any council, don’t they?

The finished product measures 19 feet high and 13 feet wide.

An idea takes shape

Kent York, the council’s marketing director, said he knew he could trust Martin Williams to create a unique theme for the council’s annual report. After all, the council and the ad agency had worked together for the past 10 years.

By the way, Martin Williams does all of its Northern Star Council projects on a pro-bono basis as part of the agency’s service to the community. Nice.

When the Martin Williams creative team showed York its idea for a massive merit badge mosaic, York’s eyes lit up.

“But we wanted to give them an out,” he said. York loved the idea, but he had to ask, “Can you really do this?”

After all, this was shaping up to be the most ambitious concept for an annual report in the council’s history.

The team accepted the challenge without hesitation.

Creative Director Susan Arens and her team tracked down a photo of a Scout, Carlos, to use as the template. Next, Arens took every current merit badge  — all 126 of them  — and arranged them by color. The artist now had her palette and was ready to get to work.

Using the print publishing program InDesign, Arens created a circle grid and began numbering these empty circles. Each number corresponded to a different merit badge.

She arranged the badges one by one, click by click, on the screen. Think “paint by numbers” but with 12,060 tiny sections to fill.

The merit badge mosaic theme is continued throughout the council's annual report.

That’s a lot of merit badges

The number 12,060 didn’t come to Arens right away, though.

In the beginning, she estimated she’d need about 1,200 merit badges.

“One of my coworkers said, I bet you’re gonna need about 10,000,” Arens said, “and I said, shut up, we’re not going to need 10,000.”

Turns out the coworker was right. But now there was a bigger problem: Where was she going to find 12,060 merit badges? No council Scout Shop in the country has that many on hand.

Besides, Marketing Director York said, the council couldn’t afford to purchase nearly $28,000 worth of badges. So he did what any Scout would do: He used his resources.

York contacted the BSA Supply Group in Charlotte, N.C., and told them his plan. Marlene Gerdts, territory manager with BSA Supply, agreed to let him borrow the badges for a few weeks. All he had to pay was shipping and any necessary restocking fees.

With badges in hand, Arens got to work. She printed the InDesign document on 10 huge strips of paper and lined the pieces on the floor. Then, with the help of some coworkers and volunteers  — and eight rolls of double-sided tape  — she got to work.

That’s where the video above picks up; be sure to watch it and share it with your Scouts to get a sense of the artwork’s size.

There’s also a Facebook app, “Badgetize Yourself,” that allows you and your Scouts to upload a photo and create a customized merit badge mosaic.

The mosaic, like any great project, was a team effort. Joining Arens were her Martin Williams colleagues: Jeff Tresidder, group creative director; Adam Ridgeway, copywriter; Kristina Fenner, account supervisor; Chad Holder, photographer; and Cory Bauer, editor. On the council side, York teamed up with Keith Faber, Web and communications specialist for Northern Star.

With the project complete, York took a moment to step back and admire the finished product and the hard work from the Martin Williams team.

“Character, citizenship, and fitness are hard concepts to put into visuals,” he said. “These people went above and beyond what we had asked. Literally, they were on their hands and knees for two and a half days doing this.”

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.