Welcome to the Unknown: Design Collaboration

It is exciting, and a little scary, to embark on this collaborative art-venture with the Thurston County Food Bank. There are so many unknowns. I know that it will result in a permanent exterior art installation and involve over 1,000 people along the way.

I do not know what materials the art will be made of, what it will look like, or even whether it will be a mural or a sculpture!

Fully stepping into the unknown this project entails requires equal amounts of faith and restraint. I need to have faith; to trust that through the collaborative process an amazing, workable idea will unfold. And I need to have restraint, so that I don’t just go ahead and plan it all on my own or inadvertently steer people in the direction I think is best.

Both of these can be challenging and require me to be grounded yet open to whatever might come.

My experience has shown me that the best ideas come out of collaboration and that if I follow a process of bringing people together to discuss the possibilities, something magical will happen. We will come up with something entirely different and MORE than I could have done on my own.

Speaking of great ideas, a friend just sent me this Ted talk, by Steven Johnson, exploring where great ideas come from. My experience has been similar to his in that I tend to get great ideas less from AHA! moments and more from messy, organic, collaborative processes.

Through the collaborative process, I’ve found that my role is to hold the space, create parameters, share the goals, and guide participants through the process.

For the Waste Less Food project, our underlying goals are to:

Show the relationship between wasting less food, reducing hunger in our communities, and lessening environmental impacts of wasted food. Ensure the entire project has a strong focus on solutions and opportunities.

The parameters for the final art installation are to:

  • Include a way for workshop participants to create art that is meaningful and connected to the project in some way. Either their art is incorporated into the art installation, or reflects and shares its message in another way.

  • Be made from exterior-grade materials.

  • Be two- or three-dimensional or both.

The design work for this project will primarily take place at Salish Middle School and North Thurston High School, in Lacey, WA. Yesterday I met with many amazing teachers and heard great ideas about how to involve students in this process.

At two of the teachers’ request, we decided that I would make a short introductory video to show the student body what the project is about. I was a bit hesitant to commit to making a video, but it is actually a fabulous opportunity. This video will be a great way to not only share about the project, but to share about the resources the food bank has to offer.

After seeing the video, students who are interested in the project will sign up to be part of a two-hour design workshop. My hope is that a cross-section of students and teachers will join in with different interests and perspectives. This project brings together so many ideas. I imagine participants engaging due to their interests in food justice, science, or art.

We will host several design workshops, exploring the intricacies of the subject matter and making art with participants. Each workshop will build upon ideas generated in the previous workshops. We will work to bring in new ideas and build upon earlier ideas as we find common themes and intriguing visuals.

Will this process be clean-cut and orderly? Nope, I highly doubt it. It's likely to be messy and maybe even a little wild. It will also be thought provoking, engaging, and exploratory.

That's what stepping into the unknown is. It's often messy, and it's a chance for each of us to grow and learn in some unexpected way.

Do you have a vision for this art piece? Share it in the comments!