Thursday, October 1, 2015

Local Art Scene: First Design Duluth Event Is Tonight

The Guggenheim: Architectural design in New York
Although most of my art studies at Ohio University were in the Fine Arts program housed in Siegfried Hall, I also took a pair of commercial art and design classes. What struck me at the outset was how utterly different the approach was in this class as well as the character of the students. The students here were predominantly conservative in attire, and the assignments we worked on were not about self-expression through illustration or painting, but art in the service of other objectives such as the communication of a commercial message in an ad, or the design of a book cover. These students were preparing for ad agencies, not art galleries.

Though many of my paintings had philosophical underpinnings, the idea of using art for commercial purposes felt foreign to me. But the instructor was patient with my outside-the-box approaches to assignments, and I was impressed (blown away, actually) by the caliber of his own work which he shared with me privately on a couple occasions.

My last year of college I worked as a security guard for Research Cottrell when I was home and after college I continued the same, given a small raise because of my reliability. The company was a publicly traded manufacturer of nuclear energy facilities. My service there was at their Bedminster, NJ headquarters where the company's executives were housed. (They had a half dozen buildings in the area.) One evening the table in their boardroom was covered with large proof sheets for their annual report and the marketing VP Tom Buonpane was leaning over the table with a small magnifying lens call a lupe, studying the quality of the printing and proofing the layout and text that an ad agency had delivered that day.

Mr. Buonpane worked late occasionally, so I knew his name, and I stood in the doorway watching as he studied the photos and the layouts. Having been an art student I found the design of the unbound pages fascinating. And I commented that it looked like something I might enjoy doing some day. He stopped, looked at me and said, "If you want it, maybe you will." Or something to that effect, indicating that this was not something beyond my reach.

Less than fifteen years later I had become the in-house ad guy at Chromaline in West Duluth (now Ikonics) helping to design, among other things, their annual reports. While proofing the pages of that first annual report that I helped assemble, a small little "ding!" rang in my head. Tom Buonpane's encouragement served as an almost prophetic declaration.

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Manhole cover design by Marc Zapchenk, Bob Dylan Way, Duluth
Design is all around us, from the ads we see to the books we read to the shape of tools we use, the clothes we wear, cars we drive and the silverware we choose. It's actually a very exciting field. And I am pleased to see that the arts community is recognizing design as an art form through a series of events and discussions this coming year.

Tonight the Duluth Art Institute (DAI) is launching Design Duluth, a year-long celebration of contemporary design and an exploration into Duluth’s unique visual voice. IN various Twin Ports locations, the Duluth Art Institute is hosting six discussions based around the central theme of Duluth’s visual identity. Each event will feature a question prompt, such as “how do we embrace the cold?”, and will engage designers from the community to collaborate or compete in creating and presenting something around that prompt. The year will culminate in an open exhibition and wider discussion on Duluth’s role in the Northland.

The DAI recognizes design in all its forms, having cast a wide net for artist voices. Throughout the year designers across a broad spectrum, from graphic design and marketing to furniture and industrial design, will be featured. These designers craft tangible items that touch lives, from the homes we live in to the products we use like the labels on our local craft beers—yet they operate largely behind the scenes.

The theme of tonight's opening discussion addresses "the city's inferiority complex" and will take place at Cirrus Aircraft. Mayor Don Ness will be present, among others. (See story in today's Trib.)

Here's an outline of the year's topics:

Session 1 (October 1, 5:30pm): How can we Measure up?: Defeating Duluth’s Inferiority Complex
Location: Cirrus Aircraft, 4515 Taylor Circle (Hermantown) Featured Designers: David Salmela of Salmela Architect, Michael Laverdure of DSGW Architecture, and David Shumate & Alex Alequin of Cirrus Aircraft

Session 2 (November 12, 5:30pm): Iconoclast – Breaking the Lift Bridge Icon Hold
Location: HTK Marketing, 394 South Lake Ave, Ste 800 Featured Designers: UMD Assistant Professor Matt Olin, HTK Marketing, & Medium Control

Session 3 (January 8, 5:30pm) How do we Embrace the Cold?
Location: Bent Paddle Brewing Company, 1912 W Michigan St Featured Designers: Loll Designs & Bent Paddle Brewing Co

Session 4 (February 18, 5:30pm): How is Duluth Home?
Location: Gimajii: American Indian Center, 202 W 2nd St Featured Designers: Gimajii: American Indian Center & TBA

Session 5 (March 24, 5:30pm) The Lake Effect: What is Lake Superior’s Role in Our Design?
Location: Vikre Distillery, 525 South Lake Ave Featured Designers: Vikre Distillery, Lake Superior Honey Co, & Johnathon Thunder

Session 6 (April 21, 5:30pm) Minnesota Nice – Good, Bad, Nice?
Location: Red Herring Lounge, 208 East 1st St Featured Designers: Chaperone Records, Hemlocks Leatherworks, Frost River, & the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Committee

This business of design is pretty big. Usually we hardly notice, but a lot of decisions go into the crafting of nearly everything we use.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Have you noticed?

1 comment:

Seeking Understanding said...

All would find the book, "Design and Configuration," a natural accompaniment to the theme; nature, guided by the laws of physics, to reveal itself in visually predictable ways.