Reveal, Empower, Propel: Design Education for a Tenacious Community

Herb Vincent Peterson
Associate Professor of Design: Coordinator of Graphic Design
Co-Founder of Marion Design Co.
Division of Art + Design
Indiana Wesleyan University

Wendy Puffer
Assistant Professor: Coordinator of Design for Social Impact
Co-Founder of Marion Design Co.
Division of Art + Design
Indiana Wesleyan University

No larger than 30,000 people and deeply bruised by a downtrodden economy rooted in racial tensions, the rustbelt town of Marion, Indiana begs to become triumphant once again. A community previously slated to become the thriving metropolis of the Mid-West, now promotes a residue of the past with blighted storefronts, broken homes, and vast and vacant warehouses. Here lies the real crossroads of America. Never before has there been such a need to see Design as a mechanism to reveal a true identity within a community and empower its people to propel forward into a new chapter of vibrant life.

How can design empower radical change? How can students learning design employ empathy to develop relational design practices and drive trust in a community plagued by deep trauma? What is the responsibility of University design programs connected to rust-belt and blighted American towns?

This is the story about a social design studio and the subsequent movements that change how we consider community activism and design education. The studio of faculty and undergraduates face wicked problems head on while gaining experience conducting ethnographic research with community members. The environment of unbridled growth of ideas, reflective of the academic model of the middle ages, encourages individuality and freedom of thought. Through an immersive experience where students learn to become design leaders, the social design studio of Marion Design Co. utilizes design thinking strategies engaging community toward authentic relationships, bringing much needed hope and innovation.

INPLACE: Innovative Plan for Leveraging Arts Through Community Engagement

Robert J. Thompson 
Assistant Professor
Graphic & Interactive Design
Department of Art
College of Creative Arts & Communications
Youngstown State University

Terry Schwarz 
Director
Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative

Kent State University

In 2015, the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation awarded the Department of Art in the College of Creative Arts & Communication at Youngstown State University with a $100,000 “Our Town” grant to fund arts engagement, cultural planning and design projects. Their programs support creative place-making projects that help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core.

The grant authors, Asst. Professor of Graphic Design, Leslie Brothers, Executive Director of the McDonough Museum of Art, and Dominic Marchionda, City-University Planner with Youngstown State University successfully proposed the “INPLACE” project, otherwise known as “Innovative Plan for Leveraging Arts through Community Engagement.” INPLACE came together over the course of three years through a unique blend of artists, designers, community stakeholders and civic leadership. It focuses planning initiatives and resources in targeted locations within city-in-revival Youngstown, Ohio to draw on the compounding effect of well-coordinated action and creative output. It is directed toward community driven public art projects that combine storytelling with art and design to create memorable, permanent place-making experiences throughout the city. The NEA chose only 64 of nearly 250 applications from across the nation for funding. INPLACE offers unique opportunities for members of Youngstown’s creative community to play an integral role in this prestigious NEA Our Town grant.

This presentation seeks to present the process of discovery, working with various constituencies within the Youngstown community, mentoring teams into cultivating meaningful, high-quality projects, share project proposals, and provide updates on the INPLACE project, which ends in July 2017.