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Non-profit Creative Reaction Lab engages black, Latino St. Louis youth to address societal issues

Cynthia Prost, Quinton Ward and Antionette Carroll talked about how elements of design can address societal issues.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio
Cynthia Prost, Quinton Ward and Antionette Carroll talked about how elements of design can address societal issues.

Encouraging young people and addressing racial equity are the tenets of Creative Reaction Lab’s (CRL) mission to create youth leaders that impact and shape their community’s future and design.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed how technological and art design can reveal and address societal issues. Joining the discussion were Quinton Ward, Arts and Education Council (A&E) Katherine Dunham 2018 fellow, Cynthia Prost, A&E founder and president, and Antionette Carroll, founder of Creative Reaction Lab.

Carroll defined design as something beyond just what’s on clothing, arranging furniture or putting together a website. But she said design is “so much more than that.”

Listen for examples of equity based community design and more:

“IBM gives the definition that design is the intention behind an outcome. At Creative Reaction Lab, we expand upon that and say design is the intention and unintentional impact behind an outcome,” Carroll said.

CRL seeks to develop an engagement effort where students conduct research to learn more about community challenges based on residents’ perceptions.

One of CRL’s current projects, Mobility for All by All, looks at how public transit impacts the life expectancy and quality of life for black, low income residents.

Ward is part of the project, a 10-week apprenticeship program where local black and Latino high school and college students explore the public transportation issue with residents of the Kingshighway and/or Fairground neighborhoods.

“When you acknowledge that there have been intentional decisions, aka designs … you then start to see that many of those inequities has been part of a designed process,” Carroll said.

Carroll said that public transportation plays a huge role in people’s lives, and that by excluding communities from light-rail transit, residents’ quality life decreases. That’s due to the amount of time they lose due to it being spent getting to public transportation, which impacts jobs, time spent with families and more.

She said CRL is conducting community engagement research and asking residents – “What would you do with an additional four more hours to your day?”

“When you really sit back and reflect on that, you acknowledge that your life has been designed and molded by other people’s decisions,” she said.

The organization uses “equity based community design” to also address issues of gun violence, discrimination and poverty impacting the quality of St. Louis neighborhoods.

Ward said working with CRL helped him understand and engage in his Spanish Lake community and St. Louis as a whole. He is a senior at Webster University studying graphic design.

“Working with Antionette right now is most definitely giving me the foundations of not just being a designer,” Ward said. “… being able to work with a group of people and understanding issues and breaking them down and seeing that an illness is not just one problem, but that illness is connected to so many different things happening.”

Prost said that while various art forms are rich with cultural diversity, people of color are lacking in arts leadership positions. Ward is the first black male recipient of the A&E’s 2018 Katherine Dunham fellowship.

“The Katherine Dunham fellowship is really designed to limit a lot of the barriers African-Americans might not be able to overcome,” Prost said. Besides more exposure to artwork, the fellowship also helps build the fellow’s network and experience in administrative type roles.

Carroll was the first recipient of the A&E Katherine Dunham fellowship in 2011 and said it was beneficial to the start of her career.

“The arts are a business and I don’t think we talk about that enough,” she said. “When you think about the arts, it is the equivalent of culture; it is the equivalent of history.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer, EvieHemphill and Lara Hamdangive you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.