The Center for Urban Pedagogy has brought the principle of public-access television to the world of design with a project intended to provide impactful design to community advocates and empower people in their own neighbourhoods.
Public Access Design creates collaborations between designers and community organizations to create visual tools that “help ordinary residents better understand and participate in democratic processes, creating real social change.”
Project proposals from the community will evaluated by a jury, who select projects based on “whether it would benefit from a visual explanation, whether the scope is achievable given the time frame, and whether there is a credible distribution plan and a clear constituency with a need for the tool,” explains CUP Program Manager Clara Amenyo.
Approved projects are then paired with one of a select group Design Fellows — designers from diverse fields of artistic practice and who receive training in socially-engaged design and commit to joining the program for one-year period. CUP itself manages the collaboration, provides support and covers production costs. The hope is that each completed project is “both an educational tool and a showcase for innovative design”.
Timeliness is key to the Public Access Design program, which places a priority on urgent social issues. The goal is to produce an effective visual tool in less than four months, a time frame that enables the project to respond to the needs of communities and local organizers as they arise.
This factor, however, also limits the program to organizations in New York City. “Because the focus of the program is on providing quick and timely tools for pressing issues, and because the nature of the work is so intensely collaborative, all of the project partners need to be able to meet regularly within the short project time frame,” says Amenyo.
CUP will measure the success of projects produced through the program, based on whether the tools produced are having the desired impact as defined by the community partners.
The ability for Public Access Design to make an impact in the community will soon be tested, as the first two projects have kicked off this fall. One will create a foldout print graphic that educates New Yorkers with limited English skills on their rights to an interpreter when dealing with a government agency, while the other will produce a video on the exploitation of trafficked domestic workers, with a goal of protecting workers and bringing accountability to traffickers.