Southern Exposure

I have to make at least two trips to Mississippi per year: the first correlates with my mom’s loving demand for my presence at Christmas, and the second, for the past 10 years since I’ve lived in New York, has been related to the weddings and first borns of my best friends from elementary, junior-high, high-school and college (this sounds like a lot of different people, but when you’re me, it’s actually the same four fabulous ones). What to do now that they’re all married and well onto their second and third child?

Head South for some designin’!

I just wrapped up my first day at the Alabama Design Summit. Thus far, I’d have to say my experience here is much like that of attending Ladies’ Rock Camp: I’m overwhelmed, exhilarated, anxious, and my rational brain is doing its best to prepare me for utter failure. But largely thanks to Rock Camp, I’ve learned not to underestimate the power of collective creativity and stick-to-it-ive-ness. If three summers of forming a band, writing a song and then performing it live have taught me anything, it’s that I should be able to get up in from of 50 designers and pitch an idea for social innovation that didn’t exist three days ago as if my life depended on it no sweat.

Like something akin to the Aspen Design Summit,* this happening has gathered AIGA leaders from across the country and partnered them with clients who are incredibly capable community leaders in the hopes of creating some propositions that can actually be implemented over an 18 to 24 month time frame. It’s all in the name of testing out possibilities for the AIGA’s soon-to-be-officially-announced Design for Good Initiative. All we really know for sure about Design for good is that is going to try to answer the question (and I’m quoting from our reading materials), “How do we effectively harness the collective commitment of the design community to improve social, economic and cultural conditions?”

I’m not sure how my expertise in cheerful design and intense empathization will be a contribution, but I’m certainly looking forward to finding out!

My “studio” of ten designers and two clients spent the day looking at creeks. OK, that’s a huge oversimplification, but seriously, there’s a lot of creeks in the Birmingham area! I could probably impress you with statistics, but it’s late and I’ve had too many margaritas (two) to fact check. Let’s just say that basically all of our country’s fresh-water runs through this state at some point or other, and that it’s a Mecca for biodiversity. Flowers, fauna, foul, and especially fish are all about their Sweet Home Alabama. So as I watched lots of water run down stream today, I thought it was only fitting that my favorite quote of the event thus far came this evening when RISD’s Charlie Cannon’s said…

It’s about designers stepping back and moving upstream.

He was speaking on design thinking and reminding us that it requires looking at things from a broader point of view and getting involved earlier in the process. I think being able to say Yes with a capital Y to the question “Is this ‘moving upstream’?” should become part of the criteria for projects WORKSHOP is willing to take on. I’ll see what Josh and Creighton think when I get home!

Is it starting to sound like I’m taking my trip South all too seriously? Not to worry! As soon as the Summit ends, my mom will wisk me the three hours and one state over to my hometown of Starkville for four days of family and best friend time. There are two babies on their way, and one might even be born while I’m there.

I’m also looking forward to some quality time with my sister, Amy. She and her chef-husband Jay run the best restaurant in town, The Veranda. Amy recently started tweeting, and her account mocks me with news of delicious culinary experiments like gumbo mashed potatoes. Finally I’ll get to partake!

And no trip home is complete without a visit to some of my favorite thrifts, the Palmer Home Thrift Stores in Columbus and Starkville. That’s where I’ve found beauties like this and this. Proceeds go to the Palmer Home for Children, an amazing organization that supports children who for one reason or another lack a family structure. I volunteered there as a teen (thanks, Girl Souts!), and from my experience, I believe they make a difference.

Once I get back to Brooklyn next Friday, my goal is no more travels until Fall. Hooray for Movies with a View and Beer Fridays in DUMBO! Hooray for Summer!! This one’s been a love-fest so far. And hooray for Fall!!! With Color Con, Brooklyn Beta, Bordo Bello and TEDxOrlando on the horizon!

* In fact, the Alabama Design Summit was directly inspired by and is being led by those who attended the Aspen Design Summit, namely AIGA/DC’s Sam Shelton and newly named AIGA National Board president Doug Powell.

Comments

  1. Wendy

    Sounds like you are having fun Jessi!  Enjoy

  2. Katie Benjamin

    “Moving upstream” is a good way to put it. I ponder how I/we can accomplish this quite often, but thinking about it and doing it are not quite the same.

    And welcome back to the South! The Veranda was my brother’s favorite restaurant while he was living in Starkville these past few years. He was always raving about the Blue Plate Special!

  3. Katie Benjamin

    “Moving upstream” is a good way to put it. I ponder how I/we can accomplish this quite often, but thinking about it and doing it are not quite the same.

    And welcome back to the South! The Veranda was my brother’s favorite restaurant while he was living in Starkville these past few years. He was always raving about the Blue Plate Special!

  4. Katie Benjamin

    “Moving upstream” is a good way to put it. I ponder how I/we can accomplish this quite often, but thinking about it and doing it are not quite the same.

    And welcome back to the South! The Veranda was my brother’s favorite restaurant while he was living in Starkville these past few years. He was always raving about the Blue Plate Special!

  5. Katie Benjamin

    Hmmm, my machine farted. Please excuse the multiples…

  6. Laura McQueen

    Can’t wait to see you, friend!

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