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September 15, 2017

Last Lingerings | Providence City Hall | Sophie Weston Chien, BArch ‘20

by sophiechien

For my last blog post, I have spent the past month (mainly being an orientation leader and recovering from that) parsing together my Maharam experience. I find myself highlighting so many of the amazing opportunities I had-from running a design thinking workshop with four departments represented or the passionate people that I met that I am real friends with (I still owe you a coffee date Z) or the struggles I had being positive and professional while answering constituent’s phone calls.

I think the most fun I have when catching up with people is when they ask me what I did. Like actually did? I spent my summer wrestling with that question, and while I was busy with things to do, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that for myself.


last day in the office!

Now, I’ve finally realized what I did was to simply be there. The ambition of a Maharam Fellowship is not to produce an immediate solution to a social issue, but to provide opportunities for artists and designers to be at the table when those issues are discussed. It’s a subtle but powerful consideration when people say “Oh I thought about you when I was formatting this power point” or ask your opinion of the art being hung on the wall. It speaks to a larger consciousness of our visual world- not only in the context of ‘elitist’ design (different conversation) but breaking that down to understand that the best design is best when it’s for real people.

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 1.09.50 AM

maps is (as) equity

Representation is a buzzword right now, a simple answer to an enormously complex issue of power and identity in society. But I also think it doesn’t get enough respect as a solution. We discussed representation during my last day at City Hall, at an Equity Peer Learning Luncheon, which came out of the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee work initiated by the Sustainability Office. I was asked to present my design thinking workshop and suggest a possible mitigation strategy through wayfinding in City Hall. It was a beautiful moment, that I was able to use both fundamentals of municipalities and design to present an informed strategy to my peers in government. I was so proud to represent as a designer, and recognize it was another intern- a RISD graduate interfering with the Sustainability Office that invited me to share my perspective.

municipal wayfinding-03

wayfinding is(as) equity

Just as important, I also recognize other forms of representation that are also vital in creating effective, productive and inclusive institutions. It is still remarkable to me the amount of ethnic, racial and gender (just to name the most obvious) diversity that has been added/encouraged to the city during the current administration. These representatives don’t just matter in pictures, but represents a paradigm shift in power structures where government begins to be representative of the communities it governs.

That being said, I am so grateful for the support and opportunities the Maharam Fellowship gave me, my new (and old) colleagues at City Hall and hope to continue this work. I’m happy to be back in the creative energy of RISD, and become a representative for possibilities that exist outside of our typical art and design cannon.

Thank you for following me, and if you want more I invite you to visit my website.


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