It’s ‘About Time’ for the 2020 Seattle Design Festival

by Beverly Aarons

It’s that time again: Design in Public and AIA Seattle have announced the schedule for this year’s Seattle Design Festival (August 15 – 23, 2020). And the good news is that the pandemic hasn’t put much of a wrinkle in the festival’s style. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Seattle Design Festival is offering a full slate of free activities: over 100 program partners will host online events and workshops alongside physically-distant scavenger hunts, tours, art installations, and other physical, place-based activities across greater Seattle. This year’s theme is “About Time.”

Annalee Shum, Community Engagement Manager for AIA Seattle and Uris Giron, a Seattle Design Festival “core team” volunteer shared with the Emerald their thoughts about the significance of this year’s festival and the theme ‘About Time’ during a video-conference interview.

“I think the reason we chose ‘About Time’ was because it’s the 10th anniversary for the Seattle Design Festival. And it’s a very logical moment in time for us to pause, reflect, and think about where we’re going,” Shum said. “It’s what we internally have been doing — looking at what the festival has been, what the festival is, and what we want the festival to be. And so we really identified this theme as a way to speak to that, but also to invite our community partners to apply that to our city, our region, and the broader global world.”

The Seattle Design Festival wants to examine how the design community may be contributing to oppressive systems — especially racial injustice, Shum said. “Now is not just necessarily a time to reflect broadly. I think it’s time to reflect a little bit more pointedly at some of the systems that design has been involved in creating and upholding … and I’m speaking specifically to systems of racial injustice and white supremacy. I’ll just say it. It’s about time to consider how we interact with one another, not only on an interpersonal level when we’re together, but how do we interact when we’re apart given the global pandemic and what that has done to our communities.”

To give their community partners more time to reconsider how they want to address the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism in their programming, the Seattle Design Festival extended the deadline for submissions. However, the festival organizers did not track demographics as part of the submissions process so it isn’t clear how many of their partners are Black, Indigenous, or POC. But there are plans to track demographics in the evaluation forms.

“So every single partner will receive a summative evaluation,” Shum said. “And that is a place where we can collect that information as well as attempt — and this is going to be difficult — but attempt to collect some of that information from our attendees as well … this year will be challenging because of the remote nature of the sessions.”

Giron wasn’t sure if tracking demographics in the submissions process would be a net-positive because tracking may make some POC feel like tokens, especially if an organization hadn’t tracked demographics in the past. He said that sometimes he prefers that people don’t know that he is Hispanic when he applies for an opportunity.

“Just because it just allows people with their own merits to put themselves out there,” Giron said. “But then again, it’s so tricky because you never know if someone’s reviewing you through the eyes of racism or unbiased racism without even saying that.”

And while Shum and Giron didn’t know statistically how much of the partner-created programming for this year’s festival is POC-led, they knew that at least some of it centers Black and Indigenous voices. Here is a list of just a few of their favorites:

The Antibody To The Pandemic Of Fake (August 15 – 23) — an online media literacy program where attendees acquire tools to protect themselves and others from misinformation.

Uris Giron was particularly intrigued by this program because it helps people filter through the “doublespeak,” recognize “untold racism,” and “be a bit more critical” about the news they digest.

Interstitial Community Bonding (August 15 – 23) — a physical installation in the Yesler Terrace neighborhood which will provide a space for community members to share their concerns and hopes for their community. Notes on these conversations will become the interior and exterior “skin” of the structure.

“This program in particular is an opportunity for the community to come together and voice their opinion of what and how their communities should really develop and evolve,” Shum said. Because as we know that area has had a lot of development and as people in the design community work to become better with community engagement, I think making sure that the community has an active role in that is extremely important.”

Built Reflection (August 22) — a physical display that will present a series of projected moving images highlighting designers from underrepresented communities including women, communities of color, immigrants, and LGBTQI+.

“I think that the first step is awareness and making sure that people recognize that if you can’t see yourself in a career field or even in a space, then it’s hard to imagine and change that,” Shum said.

On The Record (August 15 – 23) — a mural in Capitol Hill celebrating how Black artists have shaped music over the ages. Organizers of this event will screen a time-lapsed video documenting the development of the mural. The screening is onsite but there is a live-streamed Q&A session with the project artists.

“Those artists have actually been selected by the Black and Indigenous People of Color artists that Two Hands Collective are working with,” Shum said. “I think I’m intrigued by that one, not only because of the content matter but also the process they’re using to select which artists get to be reflected in that installation.”

The Seattle Design Festival is also presenting weekly design challenges for all ages at Design challenges are posted every Wednesday until August 26, 2020.

Beverly Aarons is a writer and game developer. She works across disciplines as a copywriter, journalist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and short-story writer. She explores futuristic worlds in fiction but also enjoys discovering the stories of modern-day unsung heroes. She’s currently working on a series of nonfiction stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their local communities and the world. In August 2018 she produced a live-action game and event where community members worked together to envision an economic future they truly desired to leave future generations. She’s currently writing an immersive play about the themes of migration.

Featured image courtesy of AIA Seattle