Nashville Design Week: Recap

Nashville Design Week is only in its third year of life and the organization has really opened up some great conversations. This year, the team was presented with a remarkable challenge as they had to figure out how to host an event amidst a pandemic and via digital meetings. The discussion this year was topical, entitled “Reshape”. The week consisted of virtual panels, tours, games, and happy hours that joined people in conversation about resources, minorities, and designing equitably.  

I’m lucky to have two good friends from college to host the kick-off event, [RE]SHAPING THE DIALOGUE, on Monday night of Nashville Design Week. The intention of this forum was to gather some phenomenal designers and advocates in our country and community to ask really difficult questions in a respectful manner. I was floored by the variety of experiences and the transparency of the panelists. One of the key takeaways was how there are not many people of color to look at for design inspiration or design leadership. It’s true – in design school we rarely were provided with designers that weren’t white males. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been given wonderful precedent but how about all the designers we don’t know about? I’ve only had one seminar where I intentionally searched for a female Spanish architect… and it was a Spanish Architecture seminar. It really opened my eyes to the fact that there are many books of architectural precedents that are sitting unread and unknown. Pascale Sablan has developed a wonderful resource that I encourage you to peruse and research – “Great Diverse Designers” is an ongoing library source that provides information on designers of color who are categorized by state and country. We may not intentionally curate a niche world of our favorite designers, but we may intentionally widen our internal library and knowledge. 

[RE]SHAPING THE DIALOGUE PANEL

Amplify Black Voices was hosted by a local educator at Tennessee State University who was joined by a range of panelists who provided a perspective on facilitating the dreams of those who otherwise would not achieve those dreams based on their access to resources. I listened to people close to my age speak on how much they struggled with getting their degree, with garnering respect and recognition for that degree. I listened to individuals talk about generating opportunities and making space for the opportunities for those with less resources, such as internships and education. It perpetuated an analysis of who I graduated with – their stories, their background, their future. It also made me wonder of all the individuals who would have joined my cohort but due to finances or resources. Architecture is one of the most expensive degrees to get and usually has a more complicated application process. How many people are discouraged from applying when they see these facts, many of whom could be great designers? 

From a previous involvement in AIAS, I hosted a panel discussion of designers in Tennessee and asked about how they responded to community design and community involvement. We had a lady from Nashville speak who discussed her involvement with NOMA and developing a coloring book that would educate elementary school children about architecture. I recall the goal of this project was to distribute these resources to children that attend schools with less resources or zoned in neighborhoods with less resources. This woman pointed out that part of the problem with diversity is that no one has told them that they can be an architect or what architecture even is. This memory combined with the recent Design Week has really emphasized the importance of community engagement and getting involved in your community. 

The last session I attended, Why the Sidewalk Ends, was a collection of Nashville designers and advocates questioned and invited to discuss the walkability of Nashville with an underlying tone of accessibility. Accessibility in regards for those who need sidewalks, for those who need wheelchair-accessible paths, for those who need corridors to commercial and essential markets. Upon being asked about their favorite place to walk in Nashville, many were stumped. It is baffling that Nashville is as big as it is and there are not many pleasant walkable places. This discussion has made me more aware of our street culture and what makes a good street. What would make me want to walk down this street? For instance, walking down Charlotte Avenue sounds like a death wish to me – four lanes of traffic hugged by a slim sidewalk strip. No buffer between streets, no good lighting, inconsistency on sidewalk maintenance, little relationship to the pedestrian. All buildings on that strip appear to be drive-up only. It’s when you transition to the Sylvan Park neighborhood that the short stretch there feels more relative to a pedestrian walker. The value of a sidewalk proves itself when it is near impossible to cross streets or walk to a grocery store or safely wait for the bus to come. 

Where the Sidewalk Ends Panel

Nashville Design Week 2020 proved itself to be challenging and profound. If you didn’t get a chance to experience this year, make sure you attend next year. 

Some of our very own SGS teammates have been a part of the Nashville Design Week process and were happy to answer some of my questions and give a different perspective of such an important forum.

RACHEL ELBON Q&A

How did you initially get involved with NDW?

I had attended events for NDW for the past two years and really enjoyed them, and this year I wanted to be more involved with the event and play some kind of a role in putting NDW events together.

What has been your favorite part of helping with behind the scenes of NDW?

Being able to talk and work more with other designers in Nashville!

How did you contribute to this year’s event?

I was a programming coordinator this year. This means that I helped coordinate a NDW event by sending updates to my event hosts, gathering information from them regarding their event, and gathering bios from their event panelists. Closer to the event date my role was more involved with getting the virtual platform ready for their event, and helping troubleshoot any issues that arise while using this platform.

What would you advise to someone interested in helping or getting involved in future NDW?

I personally just went to their website and applied to be a volunteer back in the spring, which is always a good option to start the process of getting involved!

What was your favorite NDW panel/seminar this year?

All of the ones I attended were so good!! But if I had to pick a favorite it would be “Designing Out Inequality”. It started with a virtual tour down Buchanan Street, which included interviews with local business owners along the way. This video was so well done! After the video there was a panel discussion, followed by a virtual art exhibit highlighting artists and makers on Buchanan Street. I thought it was a really interesting and informative event!

RON YEARWOOD Q&A

How did you initially get involved with NDW?

I was connected with the NDW creators early on, during my time at NCDC. After the first year of events, I had the opportunity to join as a volunteer community partnerships manager. 

What has been your favorite part of helping with behind the scenes of NDW?

It’s always incredible to see the amount of effort and excitement that goes into planning Design Week. For 2020, we were able to do a lot more listening, learning, and embracing a more diverse engagement with a wide variety of voices and experiences.

How did you contribute to this year’s event?

I helped continue our community partnerships and sponsorship opportunities.

What would you advise to someone interested in helping or getting involved in future NDW?

Take a look at the NDW website to see where your passion may align with a committee need/opening, follow NDW on social media, and most importantly, attend the programs during the annual event. In a normal year, there will be many more opportunities to volunteer throughout the week.

What did you get out of this year’s NDW? (could also be which NDW panel stood out to you this year?)

Being all virtual was impactful in a way that made NDW accessible to anyone, anywhere. We had people join from other states and other countries. This was also the first time we had a theme, Reshape, which drove the much needed conversations around the importance of reshaping our cities to be more equitable and inclusive.

What was your favorite NDW panel/seminar this year?

“Designing out inequality” – a panel that showcased how the Buchanan Arts District in Nashville is a prototype for equitable development– hearing from business owners, developers and local artists. I also enjoyed the panel and screening of the short film “Segregated by Design” that highlighted how decades worth of bad policies, from local to federal, shaped our urban environments through redevelopment, interstate construction and redlining, and steps that can be made to make a positive change.