Get in shape at the Detroit Design Festival 

The city of the future

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Courtesy photo.

"Design touches every aspect of our lives. From the way you interact with your phone to the clothes you wear to the way you pay your bills online, design creates solutions for all these things," says Olga Stella, executive director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center.

Stella leads the organization that puts on the Detroit Design Festival, a sprawling, five-day affair that incorporates fashion shows, design summits, art installations, wine strolls, film screenings, and live music into an event that serves as a spotlight on the design community.

But many might be left scratching their heads, wondering what exactly the Detroit design community is and who belongs to it.

According to Stella, though this community gets scant public attention, it's huge. Its members include big corporations like Lear, Chrysler, and Ally Bank, smaller companies like Skidmore Studio, Lovio George, and STG Design, plus development groups like the Platform. Schools like Cranbrook Academy of Art, Lawrence Technical University, Center for Creative Studies, University of Detroit Mercy, and University of Michigan also play a huge role in this community, as do fashion and accessory companies like Detroit Denim, Cyberoptix, Detroit Is the New Black, and Shinola. The Detroit Garment Group plays a role in empowering designers to start their own businesses, and an enormous network of individual clothing and accessory designers, architects, graphic designers, illustrators, interior designers, filmmakers, and other artists fill out this vibrant and lush community. In short, you probably know someone who's part of Detroit's titanic design community and every day you're affected by the work they do.

Last year Detroit's design community was recognized by UNESCO, and Detroit was designated a City of Design. While the title doesn't come with any monetary support, it does allow us to draw on the experiences of our fellow cities of design, especially how they've used design to create better communities. It's a pretty big deal: Detroit is the first city in the nation to be given the designation.

"We get to be part of an international exchange and collaboration. We get to use their experience to help us figure out how to use design to make a sustainable community," Stella says.

Needless to say, the designation has played a huge role in shaping this year's Detroit Design Festival.

"We want to use the festival as a means to really get the conversation going about what design means to Detroit," Stella says. "We're having a summit where people can talk about what the UNESCO designation really means, and we're bringing in international speakers to talk about the change the designation has brought about in other cities."

In addition to the summit, the festival will feature a host of varied events that will appeal to just about everyone.

"This festival is really a point of pride in the community," Stella says. Events like Eastern Market After Dark and Light Up Livernois draw huge crowds from both the suburbs and the city. Youth Day, an event dedicated to showing kids how they can start a viable career in design, is also very popular.

An extra special installment of Drinks X Design, a free networking event put on monthly by the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, is in the works as well. It will include a self-guided "design crawl" that takes participants from the brand-new Skyy Vodka Lounge inside Yamasaki's One Woodward Avenue to Detroit Lives!, a new studio space housed in what used to be the Detroit Stock Exchange to dPOP!, which is located inside a 132-year-old vault at the bottom of Chrysler House.

And these are just the Detroit Design Festival's biggest events. The five-day schedule includes smaller happenings like a screening of Parducci The Man Who Made Detroit Beautiful, a luncheon where residents can pitch in ideas on how to enhance the city through design, Metabolism II — an "exhibition utilizing performance, installation, sound, and video" — and an event where Wayne State welcomes people to "reimagine" Warren Avenue in Midtown.

"This isn't an event for the Detroit Creative Corridor," Stella says. "It's truly a showcase of the Detroit design community."

The Detroit Design Festival runs from Sept. 21-25. For a full schedule of events, visit detroitdesignfestival.com.

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