Can Design End Racism? Antionette Carroll’s Creative Lab Has 3 Promising Ideas

This story was originally published by AIGA Colorado.

When most design­ers look at how to approach social issues, they tend to think about cre­at­ing a meme, a poster, or T-shirt design. Spurred on by the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, Antionette Carroll wanted to do more. She ini­ti­ated the idea of host­ing a Creative Reaction Lab, bring­ing together 12 design­ers for a 24-hour brain­storm­ing ses­sion last August to look at sus­tain­able approaches to the big­ger issues par­tic­u­larly sys­temic racism, St. Louis’ racial divide and police bru­tal­ity brought up by the death of Mike Brown.

In addi­tion to being the Vice President of AIGA St. Louis and the cre­ator and chair of the chapter’s Diversity Initiatives, Antionette is also the chair of the AIGA task force on Diversity and Inclusion at the national level. You could say that social entre­pre­neur­ship is in her blood.

Working from sec­ondary research and first-hand accounts from local activists, the Creative Reaction Lab group iden­ti­fied more than 45 poten­tial projects. It then broke into four groups, which would develop a total of five projects. Of those, two are in the process of get­ting off the ground, while three have already been acti­vated and started to impact their local com­mu­ni­ties. Funded by seed cap­i­tal from AIGA National, Antionette works with all of the project teams to pro­vide them with a plat­form, mech­a­nism, and sup­port to get the projects off the ground.

The two projects still in devel­op­ment are Guerilla Art Warfare and Vibe Switch. Guerilla Art Warfare is headed by Jordan Thompson, with assis­tance from De Andrea Nichols. Jordan’s desire was to move beyond the printed page to impact peo­ple dur­ing their daily inter­ac­tions. Asking peo­ple to look beyond their fear, the cam­paign con­sists of stick­ers and sten­ciled mes­sag­ing that will be placed through­out dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hoods in St. Louis. Channeling Banksy and Candy Chang, Jordan devel­oped more than 60 icons that rep­re­sent fear in our daily lives—includ­ing the sil­hou­ette of an African American man with his hands up. Jordan stated that she wants to get peo­ple to think about why “the black man” invokes feel­ings of fear for some peo­ple, in the same way as spi­ders or clowns. She hopes to extend the con­cept to com­bat fear asso­ci­ated with other con­tro­ver­sial issues. Vibe Switch is headed up by Jayvn Soloman and Jess Burgess. Jayvn had focused on the topic of stereo­types for his senior the­sis, and used this as input to design the Vibe Switch cam­paign. Using chalk­board walls in high-traffic urban areas, Jayvn hopes to deflate stereo­types via inter­ac­tive pub­lic art, mobile and social media, and merchandise.

The Red Table Project
The Red Table Project is headed up by Anna Shafer-Skelton, Christine Stavridis and Emily Iles, with assis­tance from De Andrea Nichols. Their idea behind deal­ing with racial inequal­ity is to turn strangers into neigh­bors, with the under­stand­ing that it’s much more dif­fi­cult to demo­nize peo­ple when you know them as indi­vid­u­als with their own sto­ries. The focus is on ignit­ing con­ver­sa­tions between peo­ple of St. Louis who would oth­er­wise not nor­mally meet. Using meals to bring peo­ple together, the design­ers were cer­tain that an invi­ta­tion to the table would result in ben­e­fi­cial con­nec­tion and con­ver­sa­tions.
Learn more about the Red Table Project

Cards Against Brutality
Cards Against Brutality, headed up by David Miller, Kristin Serafini and Nandini Ramaswamy-King, takes a dif­fer­ent approach to the other projects. Targeting police offi­cers, the cards are an edu­ca­tional piece for police offi­cers that seeks to help them bridge the dis­con­nect between gov­ern­ment offi­cials, fel­low offi­cers, the pro­test­ers, and fallen vic­tims. Inspired by Cards Against Humanity, with a “for good” twist, the deck is intended to start con­ver­sa­tions with ques­tions like “What is the best way to protect?”

Beyond Today
Beyond Today, headed up by De Andrea Nichols and assisted by Jordan Thompson, is now called Connected for Justice. It’s a vol­un­teer match­ing sys­tem that helps peo­ple who have iden­ti­fied actions they want to achieve around racism and the sit­u­a­tion in Ferguson, and helps them build teams to real­ize the projects. As of November, the plat­form had already made 727 vol­un­teer matches, with many more since then. It helps peo­ple move past the some­times par­a­lyz­ing idea of “But what can I do?” by con­nect­ing them with peo­ple who have the ideas but need help.

For the future, Antionette has already been approached to run another Creative Reaction Lab around the idea of men­tal health. Ultimately, she’s hop­ing to move to hav­ing two or three labs each year, and is actively seek­ing com­mit­tee mem­bers in St. Louis to keep things going.

Follow the Creative Reaction Lab Facebook page to watch the progress and/or get involved.