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UIX Q&A: Melinda Anderson, Detroit Design Festival

Melinda Anderson - Photo by Myron Watkins
Melinda Anderson - Photo by Myron Watkins

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Detroit Creative Corridor Center Events Director Melinda Anderson reflects on the evolution of this year's Detroit Design Festival and how much it has already grown and evolved from its first year in 2011. Signature events like Eastern Market After Dark, a record-breaking hopscotch and countless design community partnerships were key to this year's success and will enable the festival to continue to grow from one year to the next.

UIX: What was your experience of DDF like this year as compared to last year?
Melinda Anderson: This year we had more time in planning the festival. Instead of six months, we had a year to plan. We really hit the pavement in the early part of the planning process, and were able to make a lot of great connections to involve new faces in the festival. Going into the final days this year, I felt more organized and confident that this year would be a success.

How did it grow?
We are still waiting on the number of attendees for the overall festival, but I would guess that the attendance is up from the 10,000 from last year. We also scaled down the number of events and encouraged designers to partnershare resources and collaborate with each other. This allowed for the number of designers in the festival to grow to over 300; although we had fewer events we were able to showcase more designers.

How was it different?
We really focused on the quality of the events and encouraged designers to collaborate with each other. For instance, the Rogue Event featured the work of over 15 designers through a panel discussion and exhibition. They even connected with a national group that made a special appearance at DDF. In feedback from last year’s survey, many felt that the festival was too spread out. We worked really hard to condense the geographic reach of the festival so that it would feel more walkable and accessible. The Eastern Market After Dark event brought thousands to the city and it was awesome to see so many walking the streets in discovery of the coolest studios and galleries that are often overlooked during the day. 

We tried to structure a bulk of activity along venues located close to Woodward and had shuttles on Saturday and Sunday looping to many of the happenings. We also involved Wheelhouse Detroit and many other biking groups such as the HUB and Detroit Bike City in biking tours to encourage as much biking as possible during the festival.

What is your goal with DDF? Detroit also has a different voice than other cities with design festivals. We have a style that is distinctly Detroit. That is what we want to showcase.
Our goal is that the festival grows to feature more designers and continues to provide a platform to showcase the endless amount of talent that we have in Detroit. We also want to empower people to become leaders by using the power of design to change our community. It is our hope that the nexus of these activities and numbers will reinforce Detroit's position as a global center of good design and creativity.  

Why DDF in Detroit?
Why not? We have so much design talent here that a design festival was long overdue. Detroit also has a different voice than other cities with design festivals. We have a style that is distinctly Detroit. That is what we want to showcase.

What sets DDF apart from other arts festivals?
Well, DDF is a design festival so that is one thing that sets it apart. Nothing against other art festivals, but I feel as if we have many in the city, and there has not really been a festival that focuses solely on design. We also are proud of the many different venues and galleries that open their doors during the festival.

Why do you feel something like DDF is important for Detroit to have?
We feel that it is important to engage broader communities and jointly promote the role good design and creative work product plays in evolving the social and economic environment in the city of Detroit.

What were some of your successes from this year's event? 
Through our efforts we were able to engage more than 300 designers in planning or exhibiting at the festival. One of the happenings, Hopscotch Detroit (organized by Wedge Detroit), broke the record for world’s longest hopscotch. New design studios were launched and many connections were made through DDF.

With the support of our sponsors, we were able to award 20+ groups micro-grants in support of their happenings. We also engaged many designers as community curators and they were able to directly support the communities that many of them live and work in – Lafayette Park, Northend, Eastern Market, North Corktown, and Recovery Park (just to name a few). I am very proud of all of the designers that planned happenings and feel that they were all successful.

What do you hope to do/how do you hope to grow the event next year? 
I would like to see the corporate community support the design festival by hiring many of the designers for projects throughout the year. I would also like to see more community design projects develop that engage citizens in creating lasting and positive changes within their communities. 
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