BY BRIAN LIBBY
This Monday evening, the monthly Bright Lights discussion series from Portland Monthly and the City Club welcomes two Boston designers who, although they look young enough to be matriculating at one of the area's scores of universities but instead have transformed how people think about design.
Design Museum Boston may not have any brick-and-mortar home like most museums, but co-founders Sam Aquillano and Derek Cascio say that has ultimately become an asset rather than a liability. "Design is everywhere," the museum's slogan goes. "So are we."
After founding the museum in 2009, the twenty-something industrial designers have reached out to a host of graphic designers, architects, interior designers, planners and other members of the greater design profession. But they've also taken exhibits to every corner of Boston. In 2011, for example, they collaborated with the City of Boston and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design on a National Endowment for the Arts-funded project to use design to build community and increase the livability of the South Boston Waterfront, home to the city’s burgeoning Innovation District. Design Museum Boston has also produced exhibits on transportation design at the city's Logan Airport, acclaimed shows on retail design and sustainability, and even a design competition to produce street furniture for Boston's burgeoning Fort Point Channel.
Monday's Bright Lights talk, hosted as always by Portland Monthly editor Randy Gragg, seeks to offer a sort of summit meeting with the local design and architecture community. The topic will not only be how these young designers created what's already become an institution for Boston's design community, but how to be a conduit for the community to get involved in the conversation.
Portland already has a number of people, programs and events targeting the design community. There is the Museum of Contemporary Craft, which seems to see itself as a design museum as much as one promoting craft. There are member organizations like the American Institute of Architects and the International Interior Design Association, who put on events like the Architecture + Design Festival each October, and the Architectural Heritage Center, which has activities throughout the year. There are events like Design Week Portland, which follow the Boston museum's goal of connecting the design community with the broader public. But perhaps the Rose City, like Beantown, could benefit from one comprehensive approach to design. Too often the various design professions are siloed from each other, with one profession often not as appreciative of another's talents as their own. Portland is more friendly and collaborative than competitive and individualistic, though, and the duo behind Design Museum Boston openly wondered if there might someday be a Design Museum Portland.
In a talk Saturday with local design community members at Southeast Portland's ADX (a workshop and incubator for woodworkers and artisans) hosted by Museum of Contemporary Craft director and chief curator Namita Wiggers, Cascio and Aquillano emphasized that despite design touching upon nearly every aspect of daily life, from the houses and workplaces we inhabit to the can opener we might use to open dinner, there is not an infrastructure in place to celebrate and educate the public. When Design Museum Boston applies for grants, it targets ones for arts and for economic development - because there are no design grants. They also argued that a design museum, unlike museums devoted to art or antiquity, should not be about putting pretty objects on pedestals. "The interesting thing about design is the process," Cascio said, "and you can't put process on a pedestal."
Monday's talk is scheduled for 6:00PM at Jimmy Mak's (221 Northwest 10th Avenue), and Portland's design and architecture community is invited to join what Cascio, Aquillano and Gragg hope will be a kind of town hall on Portland design in all its different yet related incarnations. If it's anything like Saturday's discussion that I attended, these young curators will make a compelling case that unifying the local creative community can help foster a broader message the public unfortunately doesn't hear nearly enough: that design is all around us, and thus should be an accessible and front-burner conversation.