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Q&A With The Creators Of York Design Week

Elizabeth Walsh speaks to the creators of York Design Week about the importance of art in instigating social change

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Image Credit: Ben Porter

In these uncertain times it is more important than ever to band together as a community in every way that we can. From Monday 26th October to Sunday 1st November, York Design Week is returning for its second year with this intention at its very core. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to some of the brilliant minds behind the initiative. I interviewed Rich Corrigan, award-winning designer, illustrator and founder of Dogeatcog, as well as Owen Turner, Creative director at United by Design, and Rebecca Carr who is a designer and curator.

What was the inspiration behind York Design Week?

Rich: Rebecca Owen and I started discussing how we could make an accessible grassroots initiative in the city - a completely collaborative and inspiring event that shines a light on existing creative practitioners. We planned this with the aim of starting a conversation and gathering perspectives around how we could live in better and more sustainable ways.

The inspiration was very much the conversations that we were (and are) having with others within the city and beyond. We’re all talking about the same things, but ‘talk is cheap’ as the old adage goes, and we wanted to take action. One way we could do this was to create this event and use it as a vehicle, to not only continue the conversation, but to inspire ourselves and others to take action.

Why did you choose art and design as the mediums through which to bring people together?

Rich: Art and design has always brought people together, or at least always sparked debate, and that’s what we want to achieve. York Design Week focuses on a very broad definition of design; we have events from architects, permaculture experts, writers and thinkers, social housing experts and more. It’s highlighting anyone who has a fresh perspective on the way we live our lives, and provides ideas on how we can all improve the way we live in an era when it’s very difficult to argue that we don’t need to change.

Do you think art and design have the power to bring about social change?

Rich: Absolutely! There is a rich tradition of artists and designers being at the forefront of social change, be it engaging their audience with a message of hope, or communicating that there is a different way of doing things. We feel it’s important to shine a light on those people and companies in the vanguard of positive change.

If you explore the YDW programme you will find passionate people in all areas of design toiling to solve big issues. We know we need to change, but often we don’t know how, so now more than ever we need to think creatively in every area of work and play. As Beau Lotto says, we live in a time where we need to be courageous rather than confident, adaptive rather than productive, and we feel that the creative industries can lead the charge on this.

We’re exploring ways of mass producing food within our cities and reducing waste whilst building community. All of these ideas are underpinned by communication. Yes, money is important, and we’re stuck with it as a system, so we need to find ways within that system that can grasp opportunities for change.

What made each of you want to get involved?

Rich: At Dogeatcog we do a lot of work with charities and conservation organisations to help them communicate their message. This kind of work has been very important to us but we wanted to do more than simply create communication tools for others. York Design Week offered this opportunity. A chance to break out of the day job and explore ideas and themes that were really important to us as individuals. On a base level, we want to leave the world in a better state than we found it, and facilitating these conversations, bringing people together and highlighting those exploring innovative ways to create change is our way of doing that. That, and working with some wonderful people; I am constantly in awe of Rebecca and Owen, and the amazing team of volunteers that have helped this year have added so much energy and vision!

Rebecca: The idea of running a festival like this has been in my mind for a while - since I moved back to York in 2013. After living in London for my degree and being able to visit London Design Festival and other brilliant initiatives like Open House London, York felt a little low on cultural activities, creative projects and things to do. I’m really pleased to have co-founded the festival with two friends who care about the same things as I do. It’s a truly grass roots venture that’s grown out of mutual interest in making our city more vibrant, welcoming and diverse.

Owen: Working with my two amazing co-founders and knowing that together we can make a change that will benefit us as a city! Having an impact on the city and creating a legacy that will ensure a better future. Also, demonstrating that creativity and design thinking can be part of that change – despite the creative, design and digital sectors continually being dismissed, they truly can be a force for positive improvement and results through action.

It is exciting to think how much we have achieved in such a short space of time, with little funding or backing. Just imagine the potential of York Design Week and its ongoing projects if they get the engagement, funding and backing from those who can really benefit – the citizens of the city, businesses and wider culture and economics. Collaboration with people is powerful! I am very thankful for Rich and Rebecca being in my life, both personally and professionally.

What are your favourite things about the week?

Rich: Seeing the number of people who are doing amazing things in York is definitely my favourite thing about York Design Week. It’s wonderful to witness so much passion, to see lasting change within the city, and to pursue a different kind of future for York - one that doesn’t simply rely upon the tourist industry. If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that this isn’t a great strategy! If we think creatively about how we can make this a city for the people who actually live here first (rather than just one weekend a year), the culture, ideas, and creative thinking that will grow from that will help us all.

I’m also really looking forward to the How to Be More Pirate workshop, which will see co-authors Sam Conniff and Alex Barker, present how we can learn from the golden age of piracy, who were way ahead of the times in terms of equal rights, equal pay and creative thinking. Also, how we can use their ideas in the modern world. It will culminate in the forming of a mutiny group, who will discuss what changes we can make in York long into the future.

Has the pandemic significantly impacted any of your events?

Rich: Unfortunately yes. There are over 35 events this year, but at one point there should have been many more. Some simply weren’t feasible due to COVID restrictions, or were too risky to invest in when we didn’t know what the restrictions would look like at the time of the event. However generally speaking, there is a real sense of innovation within the group (we’re 14 strong this year!) Everyone is figuring out how to run events in a virtual space and get people to attend when zoom-fatigue is setting in. We had to cancel the Drawsome event we had planned, which was going to be a wonderful showcase of Young Thugs Records and the work they are doing within the community in York and nationally, and Skint Skateboards, who have been working with illustrators through lockdown to create a new range of decks.

Are there any long-term plans for York Design Week? What can we expect to see in the next few years?

Rich: As a grassroots event, we’re constantly thinking about the longevity of the project. One thing we have thought about doing is stretching the events out so they aren’t all condensed into one week, so it becomes part of the general fabric of the cultural scene within the city. It’s something that we’re very passionate about, but we do need to figure out how we can fund it in the future. We have set up a Community Cultural Fund, some of which will go toward York Design Week projects this year and in the future, as well as towards other initiatives in the city. There is clearly a thirst for this kind of event in York, so we feel it’s important to keep going one way or another.

To find out more about York Design Week, clickhere

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