industry insider | Oct 31, 2018 |
A hotbed for design, Nashville gets its first Design Week

The idea of a local or regional design week is nothing new—but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy event to produce. “[Design weeks are] a global phenomenon that, over the last 15 years, have cropped up in different cities,” says Lindsay DeCarlo, co-founder and director of marketing of the inaugural Nashville Design Week, which opens November 8. “We loved the idea of a dense week of programming, events and getting people outside their industry talking to others—that is the through-line across the world,” she tells Business of Home.

Nashville skylineJoshua Ness

DeCarlo says there’s no competition in this game: She and her Nashville Design Week co-founders, Julia Dyer, Kate O’Neil and Fuller Hanan, got help via a series of candid phone calls from those who have been in their position in other cities. “Design Week supports the creative community in its location, but it’s also a reflection of it. Everyone’s trying to do the best for their city.”

Early on, they received assistance from the founders of Austin Design Week, who will host their third ADW in early November. “The Design Week founder community has only recently—in the last four or five years—started to connect and organize in this way, but there are people out there, like Helsinki Design Week, who have been at this for 14 years,” say ADW founders Danielle Barnes, Candice Digby and Amber Atkins. “We have so much we can learn from each other and support each other in.”

DeCarlo, who was based in New York before moving to Nashville two years ago, says the Southern city has the most welcoming design scene she’s ever experienced. Everyone is a “Nashvillian” first and foremost, and then a designer. And that’s reflected in the programming. “The most incredible thing for all of us was realizing how [primed] the city was for this,” she says. “We thought we would need to convince people, but the community has been so ready to jump on board—it’s the reason why year one has over 90 events. It’s a testament to Nashville’s creative community at large being ready [for this event].”

Alfred Williams & Company
Alfred Williams & Company, host of Eames Demetrios's panelNick McGinn

Creative cross-pollination already exists in Nashville on a small scale, but the NDW founders hope to foster even more conversations across disciplines. “Nashville is known as Music City, and that designation could not exist without the collaboration that occurs not only in the music industry, but within the design community,” Dyer, the event's director of strategy and operations, tells BOH. “Graphic designers support lighting designers, and both couldn't operate without the developers and architects who respect and grow the spaces where their work can make an impact. This type of interconnectivity even shows up in the local health care community, with [thoughtful] design introduced into the way spaces are planned and processes are evaluated.”

That said, there’s still a lot of potential to grow: “We’ve seen a small-scale tendency to collaborate and be supportive across industries, but nothing on a larger scale that truly brought everyone to the same table,” O’Neil, director of development, tells BOH. “We founded Nashville Design Week to bring us all together. There is no limit to who can participate or join the conversation.”

The co-founders spent six months in a preliminary planning phase before starting outreach to community partners, taking care to contact everyone already doing great local work—graphic artists, members of IIDA, ASID and other organizations—to play the role of connector, rather than establisher. DeCarlo credits the Nashville Civic Design Center as their fiscal sponsor, which allowed them to use its nonprofit status to garner funding.

A hotbed for design, Nashville gets its first Design WeekDesign Week is a means of bringing the public into the conversation with the design community to collectively say, ‘This is what we want out of our city.’” —Nashville Design Week co-founder Fuller Hanan

Next, the planners spread the word and sought out event submissions for six weeks. The response was enormous. In total, there will be 93 events, including three hosted by NDW and 90 from the design community—among them exhibitions at the Frist Art Museum, workshops on data-driven design and website optimization, and a range of other programs spearheaded by Hanan, the director of programming. All events are low- or no-cost thanks to the help of program hosts.

“Someone who might consider themselves a design novice could come and listen to a speaker, but someone who’s been in web design for 20 years could also come to programs and learn as well,” says DeCarlo. She’s especially looking forward to a panel on work-life balance featuring local wallpaper designer and textile artist Wendy Silverman; an open studio with Nashville-based interior designer Marcelle Guilbeau; and a lecture by Eames Demetrios on the holistic design vision of his grandparents, Charles and Ray Eames.

In December, the co-founders will start to organize NDW 2019. “It is no secret that Nashville is growing at a rapid pace, and the city deserves good design, not design that just happens,” Hanan tells BOH. “Design Week is a means of bringing the public into the conversation with the design community to collectively say, ‘This is what we want out of our city.’”

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