Glass House Collective Featured In Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

  • Friday, October 7, 2016
Chattanooga's Glass House Collective is featured in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum exhibit, “By the People: Designing a Better America,” an exhibition of 60 collaborative designs from throughout the United States and across borders, By the People challenges persistent social and economic inequality, officials said.

Cooper Hewitt and Smithsonian Design Museum's Curator of Socially Responsible Design Cynthia E. Smith conducted over two years of field research—traveling to shrinking post-industrial cities, sprawling metro regions, struggling rural towns, areas impacted by natural and man-made disasters, and places of persistent poverty—in search of design for more inclusive and sustainable communities. 

Smith came to Chattanooga. She was aware of the mid-size city’s national recognition for its successful downtown revitalization, transforming its image from an industrial town to a thriving city center. Meanwhile on Glass Street, residents were struggling with the compound effects of disinvestment, beyond the reach of basic municipal services. When Ms. Smith reached out to Glass House Collective, she found a small non-profit enlisting residents and artists on small scale improvement projects from their 'How-To Guide,' which was the exhibit’s focal artifact from Glass House Collective. This small booklet outlined projects that derived from planning meetings with the neighborhood residents. The guide includes a detailed list of instructions as well as all necessary tools, materials, and collaborators to complete each grass-root project. The idea is to make community transformation as achievable, practical, and replicable as possible.

"For example, recent GHC partner artist, Zachary Reynolds of Woodwise Urban Designs has wooden stools displayed in the exhibit, representative of his sustainable furniture often crafted from salvaged or repurposed materials with a simple blueprint that can be replicated. Partnering with resident artist, Rondell Crier of Studio Everything, Mr. Reynolds mentors community members of all ages interested in making art and woodworking," officials said.

“We approach community development through the arts and feel that it’s a crucial approach to urban planning and community building. It’s about leveraging the power of arts and culture to strengthen communities and drive social change which we believe sparks civic engagement which then leads to stimulating local economies, innovation, and cultural diversity. We’ve seen how creativity has fueled Glass Street, and the benefits of using arts and culture to tap into a place’s unique character extend well beyond the idea of art for art’s sake. The goal of our work is to build a strong, healthy, and resilient community by integrating the arts into broader community revitalization efforts,” said GHC Executive Director Teal Thibaud.

Ms. Thibaud traveled with co-founder Katherine Currin to NYC last weekend for the exhibit’s opening reception. Ms. Currin said, “It’s often difficult to envision how the work we’re doing in this particular neighborhood we love relates to the wider national conversation about the intersection of design, social justice, and urban and artistic renewal. The scope of the whole exhibit is both incredibly humbling and also affirming.”

The official exhibit book published by Cooper Hewitt includes a four-page spread about the Glass House Collective’s How-To Guide process and features a preface written by Darren Walker, director of the Ford Foundation.

Mr. Walker writes: "Beautiful and functional design isn't just for the elite few; everyone appreciates good design, because it can have a profound effect on the way people participate in their communities--especially those who can't afford alternatives to municipal drinking water, parks, public transportation, and public spaces...We can see the effects of poverty and inequality in the growing spatial disparities in communities across America. Some are visible in the deteriorated infrastructure and some are invisible, resulting from policies of exclusion. To create the future that we wish to see, we need bold, smart, and creative ways to turn the paradigm on its ear and lead with inclusivity."
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