Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Design Matters & the Freedom Galleries

We recently installed the main components of the freedom galleries in the library. It's always a good feeling seeing abstract ideas we had for a project start coming together in tangible ways. There's also often a possibility--a strong possibility in fact--that you'll encounter unexpected outcomes along the way.

The design format of our central display panels for the exhibit was one of those unexpected outcomes for me.

Now, we've been fortunate this year to have this dynamic duo, Marci and Tristan, directing the production of our black studies materials. I first met them a couple of years ago when they were students in one of my African American literature courses. So they were my students, but when it came to design matters, they did the teaching.

When I took on the role of directing black studies a couple of years ago, one of my main objectives was to go out and recruit top students at the university to collaborate on our projects. Recruiting Marci and Tristan was a priority.

Often, when developing projects, we start months in advance with vague brainstorms about the projects we want to do to address particular needs. We start refining along the way. At some point in the process, Marci starts talking through sketches of what the visual representations of what we have in mind could look like, and then she and Tristan collaborate on production.

In the case of the Underground Freedom Galleries, they based the designs on pointalist art. That approach really materializes one of our program's longstanding goals of producing projects that stimulate interaction and participation.

In order to comprehend the photographic images, you have to stand at a distance from the panels, and in order to read the words of the student contributors, you need to move closer. Really experiencing the panels requires moving closer then moving back and then perhaps forward again. In short, your changing proximity transforms you from viewer to reader.

"So how do we build participation?" In some way or another, I'm continually posing versions of that question to our black studies affiliates when it comes to producing high quality, interactive humanities projects. And in this case, I'm pleased that Marci and Tristan heard the question as a design problem, a problem that they responded to creatively and critically.

No comments: