As some activists march and picket on the street on Inauguration Day, others will protest through design.
“The intention is that artists, community activists, designers, and community members are all in a room together thinking through what are the hopes and concerns that we believe we’re going to be facing in the next few years,” says Bryan Lee, one of the organizers of the first national Design as Protest day, which will hold workshops in cities across the country on the afternoon of January 20.
Lee, the director of place and civic design for the Arts Council of New Orleans, has helped organize similar workshops locally in the past. In one early project with a group called Take ‘Em Down NOLA–organized to help remove symbols of white supremacy in the city–designers projected the history of General Lee on a Lee statue. In another project, designers are building a community market under a highway overpass that ripped apart neighborhoods in the 1950s and 1960s.
Inauguration Day seemed like a fitting time to launch workshops in other cities. “Architects and designers tend to separate ourselves from that world of politics–protests specifically,” Lee says. “The idea is that they are inextricably linked. Our work as designers is so thoroughly connected to policies, procedures, and practice of the built environment that they don’t have a choice but to be connected to the laws and policies that are going to be in place under a new administration.”
Some groups may focus on affordable housing issues, while others consider education or immigration. The resulting solutions may look at systems broadly–similar to Fernando Romero’s imagined “border city” that spans the U.S. and Mexico border–or may be smaller, such as the taco truck wall organized as a protest outside a Trump hotel before a presidential debate during the campaign.
All of the ideas will be gathered into a toolkit that other activists and designers can use. “If someone says, ‘We want to work on voter rights issues,’ these are the ways that people have thought about design interventions or protests around that,” says Lee. “You can use this as a generator of ideas.” The designs may also be shared in public space in a series of billboards–helping generate broader awareness so communities start to advocate to adopt more of the solutions.
Designers and community members who want to participate or host a session can sign up on the Design Justice Platform website.