“If there was ever a time to recognize and support individuals and organizations using design for civic good, it’s now,” says Tanner Woodford. The Design Museum of Chicago founder and executive director ensures the institution’s mission: to inspire, educate and foster innovation through design. One way to do this is the Design Impact Grant program. Now in its second year and focusing on ways design can improve civic life, this collaborative initiative invites any and all to Design a Better Chicago. Woodford talks to Newcity about the design’s capacity to evolve, change and fundamentally improve the human condition, prompting you to rethink the pressing issues in the Chicago communities in time for this year’s nominations.
Tell us about Designing a Better Chicago Design Impact Grants.
If there was ever a time to recognize and support individuals and organizations using design for civic good, it’s now. Designing a Better Chicago, a collaborative initiative organized and supported by NeoCon and theMART, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), and the Design Museum of Chicago, is accepting nominations for its second annual Design Impact Grant Program. The 2021 initiative will provide $25,000 in project-specific grants to individuals and organizations using design or design principles to address pressing issues in Chicago communities.
This year you’ll be recognizing individuals or organizations that use design for civic good. Can you elaborate on that? What kinds of ideas are you looking for?
In reflecting on the themes and ideas we are looking for this year, it might help to look back. Last year, Designing a Better Chicago was thrilled to offer this grant to two exceptional organizations—Chicago Mobile Makers and Maplewood Housing for the Visually Impaired.
Chicago Mobile Makers was founded in 2017 by Maya Bird-Murphy. The grant supports the Chicago Mobile Makerspace, a retrofitted USPS delivery van was transformed into a classroom, tool shop, design studio, gallery and community gathering space for Chicago youth. Design education programs—including meaningful design thinking, problem-solving and skill-building workshops—will be held anywhere the facility on wheels can travel, from an empty parking lot to a summer street festival.
Maplewood Housing, also known as Friedman Place, is a non-profit supportive living community in Chicago for adults who are blind or visually impaired. It has been highly successful in its design of space that promotes the independence and self-determination of its residents. The Design Impact Grant will support an awareness campaign of design best practices which foster the independence and self-determination of people who are blind or visually impaired.
The campaign will be available to design students, educators and current designers and will feature how incorporating senses other than vision into design can be low-cost, simple to implement, and thoughtful ways to create more inclusive communities in Chicago and around the world.
Simply put, if you are using design to make Chicago better, we want to hear from you.
Can design really change the world?
The short answer is: yes, absolutely. At its core, design is about solving problems. If the problem is cynically defined, the solution will be too. For example, weapons and wars are designed, as are benches with spikes between the seats to dissuade homeless people from sleeping on them. All of these examples clearly make things worse. It’s important to remember that the definition of the problem determines its outcome. A designer can reframe the problem. If it contains empathy, so too will the solution. That’s how we end up with the public library system, bike share programs, the recycling symbol, mixed-income housing, and life-saving vaccines. Of course, none of these solutions are without criticisms. At the museum, we believe design has the capacity to evolve, change, and fundamentally improve the human condition. We take the long view and an optimistic approach, and provide platforms for ideas that change the world for the better. Designing a Better Chicago is a manifestation of these values.
Learn more at designchicago.org.
Greek-born Vasia Rigou is a Chicago-based art critic and pop culture journalist, largely on the subjects of contemporary art, design, and fashion. She moved to Chicago in 2013 to study Arts Journalism at the School of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC,) where she was awarded the New Artist Society Merit Scholarship. She grew up to appreciate art after years of carefully planned, culture-filled travel itineraries and museum-hopping around Europe with her family. During this time, she received a bachelor’s in English Literature, in her native Athens; a master’s in Media, in Nottingham, UK; and studied foreign languages—English, German, and Spanish at the University of Salamanca, Spain. Her writing—reviewing museum exhibitions, gallery shows, art fairs, fashion shows, and music festivals among others—has been published nationally and internationally both in print and online. In 2017, she founded and now serves as editor-in-chief of Rainbowed.—an independently published website focused on the visual and performing arts, digital media, and popular culture. When she’s not writing about art or looking at art—wine in hand, she keeps up with Chicago’s creative entrepreneurial and startup community, makes lists for pretty much everything, drinks immense amounts of coffee and takes cross-country road trips every chance she gets.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.rigouvasia.com