article by Maria Gorshin, read the full article here
DesignPhiladelphia is celebrating its 10th anniversary doing what it has done since the initial festival, in 2005: putting design ideas in front of a mostly agnostic public with highly engaging events that showcase the best of Philadelphia’s creative sector. Organizers say this world is 50,000+ people strong. The festival kicked off its “Decade of Design” themed celebration on Wednesday night with an “experiential” benefit and cocktail party held at the Fishtown headquarters of the digital design firm Bluecadet. It was the first of more than 130 events that will have Philadelphia design aficionados, professionals, and the intrigues crisscrossing the city now through October 17th.
The initial DesignPhiladelphia week of design, in 2005, largely featured design firms’ open houses. It mostly took place in Old City. This format seems, today, like a distant memory. This year’s schedule features tours, exhibitions, panels, film screenings, street happenings and hands-on events organized by galleries, boutiques, universities, associations, and firms. It’s a calendar crowded with opportunities to enjoy access to people and places most of us wouldn’t necessarily have access to on a regular basis.
But it is makers–the city’s large- and small -scale manufacturers–that are a big focus of the festival this year. “It’s a really diverse group coming together that are showing themselves to Philadelphia for the first time,” said DesignPhiladelphia director Hilary Jay. Makers weren’t as much of a presence during the festival’s first years. “It’s a bourgeoning industry in Philadelphia,” said Jay. “We have great talent no one even knows is here.”
The festival, now the oldest and largest of its kind in the country, has helped Philadelphia to mark itself as a burgeoning “design city.” “We didn’t know we were a design city 10 years ago but that has become abundantly clear,” said Jay. She explained that as the festival has continued to evolve over the years it has helped establish new networks for people within the design community, promoted growth in the creative sector, and enhanced Philadelphia’s reputation as a center for creative excellence and innovation.
One indication that the festival’s relevance to the city’s overall economy is being officially recognized can be read into the fact that this year the lead sponsor of DesignPhiladelphia is The Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia.
“It’s always been exciting,” said architect Kiki Bolender, chair of the Design Advocacy Group, a collective of architects, planners, and other design professionals that has long pushed for stronger urban design in municipal projects. “But this year there’s an added element of possibilities and potential synergies due to the fact that the festival is housed at the Center for Architecture. You have advocacy groups all housed there–it offers the chance to join forces.”
What is the highlight the festival each year? Bolender said it’s opening night: “Hilary gives the best party of the year. It leads to serendipitous interactions.” And more so this year: the striking Bluecadet offices, in a reimagined industrial building that’s in the shadow of the restored Quaker City Dye Works and up the block from the just opened La Colombe coffee emporium tells the story of a city embracing imaginative design. The events that follow, continuing until October 17, are meant to exploit the potential. “You see people in different settings for a week which results in new relationships,” said Bolender.
While the festival might seem like something created exclusively for and about design professionals and students, the fact is that design itself impacts everyone across the full spectrum of Philadelphia. It’s one of the things that Bolender mentions first in regards to the festival–the fact that the festival highlights just how much design matters, how it is not an exercise in elitism, in fact it touches everyone personally. Through design, she points out, “We’re rearranging the stuff of people’s lives.”
Jay shares the same perspective on the way the work celebrated during the festival impacts everyone directly. “Design is more than big art and buildings–it touches every area of our lives. We all make design decisions and engage in design activities every day. We design ourselves each morning. We travel on routes that have been designed–bike lanes, interstates–and work in environments that have been designed. Design is a thread that runs through all that we do.”