Design Week will update Pulse, go wild with skateboards.
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 19, 2012 - St. Louis Design Week returns Sept. 24 for its second year with what organizers say is arguably the largest event of its kind in the country.
The week is loaded with a potpourri of events as distinct as an auction of artistically doctored skateboards and a student design competition to solve a personal hygiene problem. STL Design Week will also feature a participatary photography exercise involving darts, a GOOD Ideas for Cities update, a family-friendly architectural bike tour, a business symposium, an all-day design EXPO, and the city's 10th PechaKucha presentation. As a result of broad local sponsorship, all events except Monday night's ARTEFFECT fundraiser and the FORM VIP Night are free.
The brainchild of St. Louis designers Deanna Kuhlmann-Leavitt, Traci Moore, Eric Thoelke and Enrique von Rohr, STL Design Week aimed to be bigger and bolder after a successful first run last year.
Planning for only three and a half months, they pulled together a program with six days of events for the inaugural week. This year, flush with 14 months to plan and armed with 50 volunteers, the event has nine major programs over seven days. Last year the various professional organizations of design were part of the target audience - this year they're on the planning committee.
The chairperson of this year's event, Kuhlmann-Leavitt, views the week as a chance for St. Louis to send a message about the depth of its creative culture. Through her experience with the national AIGA, the professional association for design, she realized that there was limited buzz about design in St. Louis.
"I'm routinely surprised to find out that people don't realize there's stuff going on here in St. Louis, and locally I think some people don't realize there's stuff going on in St. Louis."
Visibility is the very problem a team of college graduates called Braindrain set out to address at the GOOD Ideas for Cities event in March. The team conceived of an idea to illuminate what's going on in St. Louis through a series of interactive beacons around the city, using social media to make the life of the metropolis tangible and accessible.
The group behind STL Design Week believed in the idea - now called CityPulse - as an example of the union between an intense St. Louis energy and creative design. After AIGA St. Louis, the Regional Arts Commission and HOK teamed up to hire a consultant for the CityPulse project, BrainDrain is now set to present its progress as part of design week, along with an actual prototype of one of the beacons.
Jeanette Thompson, who helped plan St. Louis' GOOD Ideas for Cities event and is also involved in STL Design Week through the PechaKucha presentation series, sees those events and the energy behind STL Design Week as indicative of a new era in St. Louis.
"It's St. Louis' time. The energy is here. There are so many people who really believe in St. Louis and believe it's a great city. People who are rolling up their sleeves and know how to make things happen. Nobody's waiting around for other people to have solutions anymore."
STL Design Week wants to keep that energy going, which is why the week is full of multi-disciplinary and interactive events, themselves designed to get creative, hungry people in the same room to meet.
"Design isn't just making things. Design is strategy. It's problem solving. It's aesthetic. It's cerebral. It can really be harnessed to do good," said Kuhlmann-Leavitt.
People tend to associate design solely with graphics or fashion, but its umbrella extends beyond that, she says, from architecture to the Web to photography to the very chair you're sitting on. She hopes people will come away from the week with a spark for future collaboration or with some tools to solve a design problem in their own lives.
The possibility of that spark is what Thompson sees as a shifting paradigm for bringing beneficial projects to life. St. Louis has a long history of institutions and corporations patronizing arts and culture, but the rise of the social entrepreneur adds a new level of possibility, Thompson says. That would mean any attendee of STL Design Week could produce the next CityPulse idea.
Kuhlmann-Leavitt praises St. Louis for a history of quiet success and humility, but she too envisions a city on the cusp of greater things.
"Perhaps it would be better for the St. Louis region and the economics of the creative class if we weren't so quietly successful - if we had a louder voice. The more of us who get together and talk about this, the louder our voice and the greater impact we can have."
Jason Schwartzman is a Beacon intern.