2020 CAA Conference

This February, the College Art Association (CAA) Conference brought together scholars and creatives from a range of disciplines to discuss art and design practice, education, history, and futures. During this four-day event, Kelly and I were proud to participate in two inspiring sessions that highlighted the power of design to make meaningful differences in people’s lives.

The first panel, “Diversifying Diversity: Addressing Marginalized Global Communities through Design,” was chaired by Yelena McLane (Florida State University), Neeta Verna (University of Notre Dame) and Audrey G Bennett (University of Michigan). Their session focused on the ways in which marginalized communities, in a global context, often fall to the periphery of mainstream design discourses. As a practice that began in the late 20th century and continues to this day, the session asked presenters and audience members to consider: How do we bring the seesaw of creative access back to its balanced state of inclusion and equity on a global scale?

The co-chairs explain:
Focusing on humanitarian design echoes revolutionary movements including Arts and Crafts, Women’s Suffrage, 99 Occupy, and Black Lives Matter, each of which centered on issues of class, gender, and/or identity and concomitant disparities in political, economic, intellectual, and cultural resources. Addressing these challenges requires designers to traverse cultural boundaries delineated by disciplinary, ethnic/racial, geographic, generational, sexually-oriented, impaired, class- and gender-based differences among others. Amidst this complexity, designers must learn to cross-cultural boundaries in order to create sustainable and humane solutions to contemporary problems, not only locally but worldwide.

In considering ways to diversify diversity, Kelly and I spoke about how education must prepare students to effectively collaborate in diverse design teams and how visual thinking can address barriers to teamwork that arise due to unconscious bias and deep beliefs. We believe an inclusive approach to design is important in giving voice to underrepresented groups by opening up opportunities for discussion, dialogue, and understanding amongst team members. Our research findings also suggest that ignoring the existence of unconscious bias can maintain social and cultural barriers between teammates, thus stifling the team’s outcomes. Conversely, establishing trust helps teams reach their full potential.

As the discussant for the session, Jill Pable (pictured at the podium) remarked on the ways in which the presentations showcased how design can serve as a versatile and powerful tool to examine problems and identify potential solutions. Design can connect people together, help individuals embrace their differences, and provide spaces for inclusion. Our job, then, is to encourage previously excluded communities to engage and take part in the entire process, giving space for new voices and perspectives to challenge the dominant paradigm. To extend this conversation further, a culmination of the presentations will appear in a forthcoming compendium which will be disseminated via the CAA website. Keep an eye out for the release!

For our second presentation at CAA 2020, Kelly and I were thrilled to be included in the “Connecting Global Issues in the Classroom” panel co-chaired by Natacha Poggio (University of Houston Downtown) and Emily L Keown (Edgewood College). This multidisciplinary session explored how different disciplines utilize global issues as topics for research, curriculum development, course work, learning, and instruction. This was an exciting opportunity to exchange pedagogical strategies for connecting global issues and discuss ways to better prepare our students to become engaged global citizens.

The co-chairs note:
With an increasing array of communication technologies available at our fingertips (and so many ways to stay “connected” nowadays), we have a duty to equip our students with skills and ideas that will enable them to grow their empathy for others as well as an understanding of the world they live in. Such pedagogical approach gives students a chance to identify the social, cultural, economic, and climate issues, as well as to connect and reflect on how the work (research and artwork) they make and study sits within a larger context.

As a way to contribute to this important dialogue, Kelly and I presented research about guiding intercultural teams towards tackling global environmental and social justice challenges. While these wicked problems might not have a ‘solution’ per se, we believe that combining multiple cultural perspectives can help teams clarify pieces of these puzzles. And, certainly, we cannot appreciate the complexity of the issues at hand until we are talking about them as a global community. We firmly believe that learning to work together is the key to improving our shared world. With this in mind, we concluded our session by encouraging audience members to celebrate their local and global partnerships by personalizing a series postcards we created as a way to acknowledge and thank our own favorite collaborators.  

We’ve been working hard to bring together our knowledge and strategies for creating equitable diverse teams into a book, which was published this month! We encourage you to download the postcards for free and order a copy of “Intercultural by Design” for your local library!

Many thanks to Natacha, Emily, Yelena, Neeta, and Audrey for creating this opportunity for us to share our work and perspectives with the CAA community!