By Mel Studach
Design and art world experts will gather next week for dialogues on African diaspora design, emerging black talents, and more
Some will be drawn in by Sheila Bridges’s canary yellow Babouche set. Others will admire the serrated ceramic vessels by Malene Barnett. Curated by Black Artists + Designers Guild members Danielle Colding, Rayman Boozer, and Beth Diana Smith, the D&D Building’s current East 59th Street window display honors Black History Month, and provides a hint of what’s to come: Next week, the design center kicks off its first-ever event series dedicated to the annual observance.
“No design center [in New York] has ever done this before, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to start changing the narrative, as well as celebrating the contributions of black artists and designers past and present,” Barnett, founder of the BAD Guild, tells AD PRO. She approached Alyssa Abrams, senior marketing manager at the D&D Building, with the idea earlier this winter, and before long, the conversation had progressed to program planning. “Design centers are the heart of our industry—the epicenter for discovery, inspiration, and information,” says Abrams. “We take that role very seriously, understanding that we have a powerful voice and platform to spread the message of inclusivity in design.”
Come Tuesday, artist and BAD Guild member Lisa Hunt and textile designer Lori Weitzner will kick off the series with a dialogue on licensing partnerships on the heels of the duo’s debut wallpaper and fabric collection. Beth Diana Smith will join fellow interior designers Leyden Lewis, Kiyonda Powell, and Joy Moyler to discuss infusing African diaspora culture into design with Novella Ford, the associate director of public programs and exhibitions for Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. And Sheila Bridges, Lorna Simpson, Monique Long, and Cheryl Riley will gather to survey African American art, from ethically sourcing and collecting it to the talents to watch.
Along with the panels, creative demonstrations—including hand-block printing with Christine Joy Design’s Christine Llewellyn Ohemeng and a culinary tasting of African diaspora cuisine with James Beard Award–winning chef JJ Johnson—will take place at the de Le Cuona and Fabricut showrooms, respectively.
Though all these plans are timed to Black History Month, they also coincide with another important date. About a year ago, the Black Artists + Designers Guild was hosting its own inaugural event—an evening celebrating black designers at the Haworth showroom in Washington, D.C. The lineup of member-led events to follow—art exhibitions at Affordable Art Fair NYC, High Point Market, and Texas Contemporary; design installations at the Lenox Hill Spring Gala and the Transcend Space at NY NOW; and important dialogues at institutions like the New York School of Interior Design among them—served as not only a case study of all that’s possible in a calendar year but also of an industry “on the path to change,” according to Barnett.
“The press has been great, the events have been great, but what I value most is the collaboration with brands and the relationships that are being forged among the members,” says Barnett, fresh off a return from Maison et Objet and Paris Déco Off, where she and fellow BAD Guild members attended in support of Lisa Hunt’s fabric and wall-covering release. One year in, she says, “people are more open to having conversations like, ‘These are the challenges, what are the solutions?’ That’s a start.”