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Theaster Gates Teams Up With Prada To Give 14 Black Designers A Boost — And Half Are From Chicago

"Some of this is about representation, and some of this is like, 'Oh, I didn't realize there were so many dope-ass Black people doing dope-ass Black things," Gates said.

From left: Harvard professor Sarah Lewis, Rebuild Foundation founder Theaster Gates, Obama Presidential Center museum director Louise Bernard and writer and curator Kimberly Drew chat during the panel discussion at Wednesday's ceremony for the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab awardees.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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SOUTH SHORE — Fourteen Black designers have been selected as the first group of awardees under a new program backed by South Side artist Theaster Gates and Prada that aims to broaden the perception of creative design.

The Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab’s inaugural awardees were announced Wednesday during a ceremony at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave. The program aims to boost designers of color.

While traditional designers in fashion and architecture are among the awardees, the group also includes artists working in restaurants, urban farms and other practices not commonly associated with the design field.

The Chicago-based winners are:

The other awardees are Tolu Coker, a London-based fashion designer; Germane Barnes, a Miami-based architect; Mariam Issoufou Kamara, an architect based in Niamey, Niger; Kyle Abraham, a New York City-based dancer; Yemi Amu, an urban aquaponic farmer based in New York City; Salome Asega, a New York City-based artist and researcher; and Kenturah Davis, a Los Angeles-based visual artist.

All awardees will participate in the design lab for three years. During that time, they’ll receive financial support for their projects, gain networking opportunities with world-famous designers and attend annual events in New York City and Los Angeles.

The late designer Virgil Abloh, director Ava DuVernay and architect Sir David Adjaye were among the creatives who nominated the awardees.

Gates told the Sun-Times he wanted to create a pipeline for designers of color, so he pitched the idea to Prada and the designer got on board.

“Some of this is about representation, and some of this is like, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize there were so many dope-ass Black people doing dope-ass Black things,” Gates said at the design lab’s launch event Wednesday.

Credit: Provided
Theaster Gates (in tan suit jacket) chats with the design lab awardees in attendance for Wednesday’s ceremony at the Stony Island Arts Bank in South Shore.
Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Banners honoring design lab awardees Brandon Breaux and Summer Coleman hang on a light post along Stony Island Avenue outside the Stony Island Arts Bank.
Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Norman Teague (in ballcap) chats with attendees at Wednesday’s ceremony.

The design lab will “open up people’s awareness to other fields of design,” said Breaux, an interdisciplinary artist from Greater Grand Crossing.

The designer behind Chance the Rapper’s “10 Day,” “Acid Rap” and “Coloring Book” album covers said the awards will also encourage more connections among artists.

“The world has brought everybody to think more intentionally and deeply about the work that they do,” Breaux said. “Sometimes you do projects and you just move on to the next, but I think gratitude helps in letting people know how you feel. Being present with them helps to further relationships and future collaborations.”

Breaux’s first solo exhibition “Big Words” will open Saturday at the Blanc Gallery, 4445 S. King Drive in Grand Boulevard, and run through May 27. He’s also working on his own non-fungible token (NFT) project, as well as one that will be auctioned off in June through the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., he said.

The design lab award is a form of validation for Coleman, who’s spent her career providing a “community service” in helping local groups “look like organizations that can be invested in — that can be trusted,” she said.

Coleman has partnered with local shops and groups like the Silver Room and Harper Court in Hyde Park, as well as Special Service Area #42 in South Shore. She had straightforward advice for anyone looking to hire or collaborate with designers based on the South Side, which she described as a hub of “hidden talent.”

“We’re here. Use us,” Coleman said.

Coleman is finishing a series of books on the basics of branding and graphic design for organizations and businesses to use. She’s also hoping to hire some “fabulous female interns who are in high school right now and mentor them” using funds from the design lab.

Bird-Murphy has seen her Chicago Mobile Makers workshops grow from “an idea that I had in grad school” into something “bigger than I thought it was going to be.” She’s planning to open a permanent space for the workshops in Humboldt Park this summer, she said.

Much like Coleman, Bird-Murphy said she hopes the design lab award can have an effect on future generations of designers as well — not just the initial group of awardees.

“I want young people … to have that person to reach out to who can maybe help them in their career, or help them get a leg up,” Bird-Murphy said. “I think people of color don’t have that opportunity as often.

“It’s a jump start for me, but I also want to pay it forward and it’s going to be a jump start for the young people that I work with as well,” she said.

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