Experiential designer, creative strategist, publisher, researcher—Alice Grandoit wears many hats. Working at the intersection of art, community development, education and culture, she uses design as her medium of choice to bring change in our ever-evolving world. And for Grandoit, true change stems from the community. With a mission to create social impact by providing quality, accessible and compassionate experiences that promote the well-being of all, she sparks conversations that are transdisciplinary and intergenerational with Deem Journal, a biannual print journal and online platform focused on design as social practice that she co-founded and serves as its editor-in-chief. Taking it a step further, the Deem team will bring to life their first-ever symposium this March. Hosted in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago, Design with Dignity provides a space for design practitioners—dreamers, thinkers and doers—to come together and uncover the meaningful narratives, connections and patterns that might help us better understand our histories and imagine our futures. The three-day event is thematically organized, around dignity, pedagogy, equity and place, and the speakers include Amanda Williams, Germane Barnes, Toni L. Griffin, Ramon Tejada, Annika Hansteen-Izora, Paola Aguirre Serrano, Maya Bird-Murphy, Nu Goteh, Tonika Lewis Johnson and Otez Gary. In a conversation, Grandoit discusses the Symposium as an opportunity to extend their philosophy on design beyond the Deem journal pages, a dynamic exchange of thoughts and ideas, and most importantly, inspiration for a more equitable future. “We want people, whether they identify as designers or not, to walk away inspired by what change they can have in their communities and beyond,” she says.
Tell me about the Deem Symposium—what is the concept behind it and why is now the time to bring it to life?
The Symposium is an opportunity for us to extend our philosophy on design beyond our journal pages. The title, “Designing for Dignity” is from our first issue and has remained a throughline for each issue ever since. The Symposium is the first time we can bring our editorial themes together to explore how design engages with dignity, place-making, pedagogy and equity. Design is a process and a shared experience. Our ambition is to create shared moments that provide a new context to what design could be. In partnership with the MCA Chicago, we get a chance to bring together a community of designers, changemakers and the design-curious to share ideas and approaches to inspire a more equitable future.
What is your definition of “Designing for Dignity” and what does it mean for Chicago, specifically?
Dignity is at the foundation of every design inquiry we address. Through design, dignity is about creating the conditions that honor all expressions of life, acknowledging the interconnection between both the human and the non-human. “Designing for Dignity,” is also the name of our debut issue, in which our editorial inquiry centers dignity as a condition we might desire through entry points such as our food systems, our homes, and through the social responsibility of the built environment. We have since considered dignity as fundamental to all of the explorations we have produced, that intersects inherently with how we reimagine education, how we might envision equity, and sense place. Chicago has a legacy of social-justice-movement building, and a vibrant art community. We are inspired by the work of Chicago practitioners putting forth bold visions of what our futures can be—the work of Theaster Gates who leads our inquiry on place for issue four is among the many examples and we look forward to showcasing this at the upcoming convening.
What does a just, equitable future look like and what are some real ways one can help bring change—both inside and outside of the design community?
To build on the former question, in issue one we cover the work of Soul Fire Farms, a community farm that is committed to uprooting racism in our food system. In the book “Farming While Black,” Leah Penniman writes: “Owning our own land, growing our own food, educating our own youth, participating in our own healthcare and justice systems—this is the source of real power and dignity.” These words have been inspirational to us because we believe that change is possible when we can yield a greater field of participation. We are committed to building the capacity for participation through design. This is why we seek to extend invitations to a broader community to think through these questions—which impact everyone, not only the design community— with us. Deem doesn’t achieve to be holders of solutions, but to be in a practice of asking better questions, together.
What are you hoping the viewers will take away?
I have the means to enact change through design. “Design” is often determined based on the output of the designer. The output is based on the fidelity of the design. What is only sometimes considered is fidelity is dictated by the resources needed to achieve a level of polish, finish, or scale to be considered design. The goal of Deem as a platform and the Symposium is to explore what design looks like from the standpoint of the process instead of output. Design in its purest form is the process of adding value, that process is inclusive of various approaches, perspectives and methodologies. We want people, whether they identify as designers or not, to walk away inspired by what change they can have in their communities and beyond.
Deem Symposium takes place at the Museum of Contemporary Art on March 3-5 (conference programming March 4, 10am-6pm, tickets: $35-$75).
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