Building a Common Dialogue at the 2016 Seattle Design Festival Conference
Co-curated Visualizing Relational Poverty Knowledge, an audience-participatory discussion between activists, academics, and creatives at the 2016 Seattle Design Festival Conference to explore how we might make visible the often invisible class violence that exists in our own community.
Extending the conversation with Common Dialogue, a collaboration of creatives to engage economic and racial justice through visual, structural, and spatial storytelling.
SEPTEMBER 2016 — PRESENT
TEAM / ALLISON CHAN, ANISA JACKSON
On September 17, 2016, Anisa Jackson and I held a panel conference titled Visualizing Relational Poverty Knowledge at the Seattle Central Public Library as a part of the Seattle Design Festival, in partnership with the Relational Poverty Network (RPN) at the University of Washington. Through an audience-participatory discussion, we challenged activists, academics, community leaders, artists, designers, and the public to conceptualize how we might reframe and decolonize the disciplines and creative spaces we occupy. Together we investigated the year's festival theme, Design Change, by extending the RPN's approach to deconstructing class violence beyond the academy and inviting creatives to work across boundaries.
We began the event by introducing relational poverty knowledge, a cross-disciplinary approach to poverty research that examines the intersections of class violence and how they underscore structural inequalities across race, gender, and other markers of difference. We then invited our panelists—a mix of activists, academics, and artists who have helped lead the conversation on inequality in the Seattle community—to share with us their stories as they pertains to our conference themes.
After hearing from our panelists, we then turned to the audience to help lead the remainder of the conference. Rather than following with a typical Q&A, we prompted each panelist to join small group discussions wherein we encouraged all participants in the room to share, discuss, and reflect with each other. We welcomed a full house, making for an incredibly rich and diverse dialogue between people from all across the city.
"We do not romanticize small moments of connection or self-realization as simple answers to the politically hegemonic neoliberal project. Clearly, broad structural forces reproduce both material and discursive difference in the US. However, we see this research as instructive of the kinds of spaces and practices through which alternative understandings, identities, and politics may emerge."
VICTORIA LAWSON & SARAH ELWOOD, ENCOUNTERING POVERTY: SPACE, CLASS, AND POVERTY POLITICS (2014)
Curating this conference was a deeply personal experience for me. It at once introduced me to participatory design at community scale while also allowing me to study firsthand the potential of dialogue across difference. It is within these liminal spaces of encounter, much like the ones we created here, that real, meaningful work can occur—the hard work of being vulnerable, building trust, and building solidarity. These are the intimate and ephemeral moments that call for us to de-center ourselves and to brave our own ambiguity, knowing that no degree or distinction will be afforded to us in return, and armed only with our conviction to do the slow but necessary work of untangling the violence that exists between us. It has become abundantly clear to me, then, that the most remarkable kinds of impact are also sometimes the most invisible. Insofar as this violence often disguises itself, so too might their most compelling remedies.
Looking forward into my career, I am rethinking interaction design as an opportunity to consider how we are deeply and viscerally connected to each other with elevated creativity and vulnerability. How might we design spaces of encounter wherein we may cathect our vulnerability to each other—to make legible the asymmetries that bind us and the embodied relations that constitute them? And how can this help us negotiate a new dialectic of identity, privilege, politics, and alliance? With this in mind, I am continuing the conversations begun here through Common Dialogue, a collaboration between creatives to engage racial and economic justice through visual, spatial, and structural storytelling. More details to come soon!
SPECIAL THANK YOU TO ACTUAL ANGEL ANISA JACKSON, WITHOUT WHOM MY LIFE WOULD BE PRETTY LAME