As the United States –– and former manufacturing hubs like Philadelphia –– try to redefine themselves for the post-industrial age, design can offer a path to a sustainable future, says Hilary Jay, executive director of DesignPhiladelphia, a city-wide festival running from Oct. 13-23.
“We’re not the workshop to the world anymore,” Jay says. “Hopefully, we can be a strong resource for innovation.”
The 11-day festival, which is held during National Design Week, seeks to highlight the city’s contributions through a range of interactive events, lectures, studio tours and workshops, with the larger goal of promoting a conversation about design’s role in our lives.
Ahead of the event, Jay discusses why design should matter and what she hopes to accomplish with the seven-year-old festival.
Which came first –– Philadelphia being on the national design map or the event helping to establish the city’s design bona fides?
DesignPhiladelphia is working toward bolstering Philadelphia’s reputation as a city of innovation and vibrancy. By having all these events at the same time, we’re showing the strengths of the city’s economic, social and educational power.
Design is as simple as a paper clip, as complex as an urban plan and as political as a flag. Any given city has a need to make design and information central to its future.
You’re also able to marshal the city’s educational resources, since the event is presented in partnership with University of the Arts.
There are seven schools in the city that all have design programs. It’s an amazing conglomerate of educational possibilities. There’s also the desire to keep people here once they’ve been educated, so retention is part of the issues we’re hoping to help sway.
What kinds of experiences can people expect to find among the more than 150 events?
They really go from extremely immersive events like Not A Vacant Lot [a five-day series of parties, performances and cultural events on an empty downtown lot] that’s sort of a happening, to things that are more particular to someone’s interests.
We have the Build a Chair, Build a Neighborhood event [to make chairs out of old pallet crates] that Web design firm P’yunk Ave. is doing –– it’s a very different energy and places design on the street. An innocent bystander can walk by and say –– “What the heck is that?” –– and think about how design impacts their lives.
The Big Chalkers event on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway seems perfect for anyone who ever had a box of Crayolas.
Those things are four-feet-tall! To see people in business suits marking up the sidewalk at lunchtime is pretty funny. It reminds you we can have fun in our lives, and design is not so serious.
Politicians aren’t usually known for their design savvy. Why did you decide to recognize Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter as the first Design Champion?
He’s invested in the idea that our creative community is going to make a change and help pivot the city to another place besides hot dogs and Rocky and cheesesteaks.
He’s put his power into place into a variety of things that are very much design-oriented, from adding the Office of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy when he got elected, hiring Gary Steuer [as chief cultural officer] and creating a cabinet level position for that office, to creating an Office of Sustainability and [authorizing] our new bicycle lanes.
We’re really changing, and it’s evident to people who are living here.