Twelve years ago the College for Creative Studies, in Detroit, and Business Leaders for Michigan joined forces to create Design Core Detroit, a nonprofit economic development corporation housed within the creative college with a mission to establish Detroit as a globally recognized creative capital. That same year Design Core Detroit celebrated the inaugural Detroit Month of Design, a multi-disciplinary creative arts festival that’s held annually from Sept. 1-30, to showcase the diversity of creativity Detroit has to offer. 

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As the 12th annual festival gets underway, One Detroit Arts & Culture host Satori Shakoor sits down with Design Core Detroit Co-Executive Director Kiana Wenzel for a conversation about the 80 different events, like Eastern Market After Dark, on tap for this year’s festival, ranging from exhibitions, installations, artist talks, tours and workshops.

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Plus, they talk about Detroit’s storied history of creative industries and designers, as well as the new generation of designers coming out of the city’s top creative colleges, and about a new vision for inclusive design that’s more sustainable and equitable.

Full Transcript:

Satori Shakoor, Arts & Culture Host, One Detroit:  Well, hello there, Kiana Wenzell.

Kiana Wenzell, Co-Executive Director, Design Core Detroit: Hi, it’s so nice to be here.

Satori Shakoor: So, who is Design Core Detroit?

Kiana Wenzell: Design Core Detroit is a nonprofit economic development organization housed within the College for Creative Studies. And our mission is to establish Detroit as a globally valued and recognized creative capital.

Satori Shakoor:  And how did you get started 12 years ago?

Kiana Wenzell: 12 years ago, Design Core was founded by the College for Creative Studies and Business Leaders for Michigan, and in order to have Detroit be globally valued and recognized as a creative capital, we have to make sure that we’re supporting our design-driven businesses. And so, we do coaching for design-driven businesses emerging to establish.

We also have the festival as one of our strategies to tell Detroit’s design story locally, nationally and globally. And Design Core is also the steward of Detroit’s UNESCO City of Design designation. In 2015, Detroit was designated, by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, as the first and only City of Design in the United States of America.

Satori Shakoor: What makes it the chosen city for design, for this effort?

Kiana Wenzell:  Sure. You know, Detroit has the highest concentration of industrial designers nationally. We have a high concentration of colleges and universities dedicated to teaching and training the next generation of designers. We have a large collection of research development institutions. When you think about the GM Research Center, 3M, Whirlpool, we have a high concentration of museums and cultural institutions designated there.

And Detroit designers, the alumni of Detroit designers going to work either nationally or internationally around the world, we’re not just the automotive capital. When you think about furniture, the College for Creative Studies, or Cranbrook and the Eames chair, this iconic chair coming out of Detroit. So, the question of like, ‘Why?’, is easy, but the question of what’s next?

Satori Shakoor: That’s what I was going to ask you, the vision…

Kiana Wenzell: To me, it’s a hard question. So, once we received the designation in 2015, Design Core spent over a year and a half engaging over 1,000 stakeholders. So, we said, what does this designation mean for us? And we spent that one year talking to so many people doing case studies, a focus on inclusive design is what came out of that. So, how do we work more with community, business and government and change how we design and who gets to design to have a future that’s more beautiful, more sustainable and more equitable?

Satori Shakoor: And you have a whole month dedicated to design, right?

Kiana Wenzell: Yes. So, Design Core, you know, we produced the “Detroit Month of Design,” which is an annual multidisciplinary festival that occurs, September 1st through the 30th, and this year is our 12th anniversary.

Satori Shakoor: Congratulations.

Kiana Wenzell: Thank you. So, we’re going to have 80 events in 30 days, ranging from exhibitions, installations, talks, tours and workshops occurring throughout the city of Detroit.

Satori Shakoor: So, what are some of the events taking place during the month of September?

Kiana Wenzell: Yes, we are starting the month off with a kickoff party at Spotlight Detroit. There is “Sneaker House ” also occurring, presented by foot locker. Gucci Changemakers is presenting, “Building A Lasting Impact” at the Museum of Contemporary Arts. We’re hosting a Design Jam as well, where interdisciplinary teams get to create outdoor apparel for the Limb loss Community. There is, “Crafts In The Digital Age” at the Ford House, so, for the first time ever, technologically produce products next to traditionally handmade products.

There’s the “Black Footwear Forum.” We also have Matter Design plus Biggers, Sanford Biggers. And then two MIT designers are doing an exhibition at Wasserman Projects. There’s the “Hawkins Family Legacy,” that’s near Marygrove, just honoring the Hawkins family in their apparel line that they started at Home Base. There is, “The Untold Stories Of Black Landscape Architects” at the University of Detroit Mercy. Michael Ford, the hip-hop architect is hosting an exhibition at MarxModa. So, that’s just a few of the events going on.

Satori Shakoor: Can you say a word about Eastern Market After Dark?

Kiana Wenzell: Easter Market After Dark this year, is occurring on Thursday, September 15th, from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m., and essentially, the outdoor open-air market turns into a nighttime Design District. So, it’s amazing, it’s the largest event of the festival. Our theme for this year is, “United By Design”, focusing on connectedness and togetherness. You know, you can go faster alone, but further together. And I think that “Eastern Market After Dark ” is a real example of that. For some of these businesses, this event is their largest sales day outside of like Christmas and Thanksgiving. You know, Savvy Chic is also hosting an event during “Eastern Market After Dark”. So, it’s really beautiful to see all of the sheds with activity and then all of the businesses participating.

Satori Shakoor: I’m definitely going to be there.

Kiana Wenzell: Okay, I can’t wait to see you there.

Satori Shakoor: I’m definitely going to be there!

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