Interview with Olga Stella of Detroit Creative Corridor Center on the Role Artists Play in UNESCO Detroit’s City of Design Designation

UNESCO Detroit City of Design - Detroit Art & Business Institute

Interview with Olga Stella on Art and Design’s Role in UNESCO Detroit City of Design Designation

Detroit recently received the prestigious Design Designation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the city is celebrating and planning! Designated as the first and only city in the United States to be a UNESCO City of Design, Detroit is part of a worldwide network of 116 cities from 54 countries committed to investing in creativity as a driver for sustainable urban development, social inclusion and cultural vibrancy.

Based on this exciting UNESCO designation, Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) is launching its visioning process and they asked me to interview their Executive Director, Olga Stella.  Of course, my first thought was, “I need to ask her how will this initiative affect my DABI creative members? How will individual artists and designers benefit?” Below, find the Q & A.

Andrea: Why would the artists and designers (industrial, fiber, fashion, furniture, graphic…) that I coach and teach care about this 10-year plan? 

Olga: The power of this UNESCO City of Design 10-year designation lies within the people and business who are using design to drive Detroit’s future. Not only is this an honor for Detroit, but it is an opportunity to elevate Detroit design locally and globally. There are opportunities for everyone from academia, to industry, to policymakers and community members to inspire others to see the transformative power of design.

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DC3 is currently working with many partners on a long-term strategy to activate this designation into a local economic driver. This will mean many more opportunities for artists and designers to do business locally and globally and to have their work recognized for its excellence and importance. Over the course of the designation, the Detroit City of Design initiative will elevate Detroit’s position as a global leader in creativity and innovation and work to better the city through the power of design.

Andrea: What does it mean to them, as individuals or small groups (associations, studios or by discipline)?

Olga: DC3 continues its work strengthening Detroit’s creative economy through business support, community engagement and advocating for Detroit’s design field. Through the designation, we want to increase the overall network of resources and opportunities available to artist and designers. This means both connecting them to local efforts that could benefit from their talents, as well as bringing new opportunities to Detroit like design competitions and challenges. This also means an expanded platform for their work. DC3’s monthly design networking events and annual Detroit Design Festival already expose 300 local designers to an audience of over 20,000 annually. Through this international designation, that level of exposure will only grow.

Andrea: Is there room for artist involvement?

Olga: We welcome artists to become involved. Detroit City of Design is about collaborative relationships leading to inclusive growth. This means bringing many different sectors and talents to work together on projects that can make a difference. While the strategy is still in development, we invite artists and designers to follow our progress on social media and attend our events.

Andrea: How would they be able to get involved if they were so inclined and would involvement include financial reimbursement for their time/skills?  

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Olga: Designers looking for opportunities are encouraged to become involved in our Creative Co. membership services, participate in our monthly Drinks x Design, attend the Detroit Design Festival in September, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media. For Creative Co members, DC3 works to find new paid business opportunities or make introductions that may lead to paid work. Through our activations and events, we often offer stipends to artists and designers. DC3 is advocating for design services to be included as an essential part to developing new projects and businesses in the city, and we hope that that work results in many more paid opportunities for the local art and design community.

Andrea: What type of community art do you anticipate proposing/planning for?

Olga: DC3 hopes that community art becomes an integral part of any neighborhood development project and that through the City of Detroit’s planning and development efforts, the right tools, supports, and processes are developed to support that goal. Community art projects should be appropriate to the neighborhood that they are developed in and respect the local community. Ideally, residents and businesses would help drive the vision for art in their own neighborhoods.

Andrea: Will you stick with locals or reach outside of Michigan for talent? (or a combo)

Olga: Growing Detroit’s design economy requires both fostering and supporting local talent, as well as recruiting new businesses to locate in Detroit. However, we have to start with local talent first. Detroit has great talent already, and we want to provide the kind of support that can help them grow their business and be sustainable over time. Through our work, we want to share Detroit’s design stories widely. For example, last May, a Detroit-based design studio Thing Thing traveled to Scotland to take part in the Dundee Design Festival, where they showcased their exhibition of new innovations in ceramics, furniture, interiors, textiles, jewelry and healthcare design. When national and international businesses see strength of Detroit’s existing design community, they will want to come and be part of it.

Andrea: I would imagine that “greening” is included somewhere in the plan and if so, would the arts be included in those areas as well?

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Olga: DC3 sees that opportunity for landscape design to have a transformative impact on Detroit’s neighborhoods given the vast amount of vacant land in the city. Landscape design can not only beautify neighborhoods and improve quality of life for residents, but also provide important environmental benefits. The UNESCO designation is about supporting equitable and sustainable futures in cities, so its highly likely that landscape design will play an important part in Detroit.

I’d like to thank Olga for donating her time to answer my questions. What are your thoughts about this subject?  Are you satisfied with the answers?  Are there more ways that artists can be involved? Share your comments below!

Andrea Rosenfeld

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