COLONY founder Jean Lin champions the independent design festival


COLONY founder Jean Lin champions the independent design festival

(Courtesy Jean Lin)

Last year, media conglomerate SANDOW announced that it would be taking over the organization and operation of NYCxDesign in place of The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), beginning in 2020. Jean Lin—founder of the designer co-op COLONY and Tribeca Design District—opted to leave the steering committee after the change in management from a city-run organization to a private media company. In favor of independent designers over expansion, Lin established The Design Festival NYC, a New York-centric platform for the local design community. 

AN’s market editor Gabrielle Golenda sat down with Jean Lin and co-founders Madeleine Parsons and Robert Higa to discuss their vision for the independent festival and future programming in the wake of the Coronavirus. 

Gabrielle Golenda: Why did you leave the NYCxDesign steering committee?

Jean Lin: When they made the announcement that they were handing it over to SANDOW, it started to feel counterintuitive to what I thought the beauty of New York Design Week actually was, which was this amazingly broad representation—as far as the businesses that were taking part and benefiting from it.

I started to feel urgency around a lot of aspects of our industry that we’re starting to feel slighted. Now that all of this is happening around Black Lives Matter, I feel like the urgency is only growing given the fact that the city shut down for two and a half months, people are losing their jobs, and businesses are going out of business. There’s never been a more urgent time to amplify the voices of people who can’t amplify their own. At the core of it, that’s what we’re trying to do with the Design Festival in our own little way.

How did you decide to start a festival independent of SANDOW?

I was talking about starting something up that could potentially play a role in expanding the view of what design in New York is and broadening the perspective into the independent realm. At the same time, offering a really curated view of the actual things, like the number of events or the things to do. Intrinsically it’s a tough task to take on because we’re trying to be inclusive, but also territorial. 

What is the format for The Design Festival NYC?

We originally envisioned three different parts of the site. One is the itinerary, which is the four-day guide. Now, that’s going to be the mini itinerary. Two is the directory, which is a year-round directory of design destinations in the city that people can use as a guide anytime they come to New York if they’re interested in design. The third is a bulletin, which is going to be a regularly updated blog. It was going to capture more voices than just the curators and work on that inclusivity part of the mission statement. It’s going to play a really important role in our new format because we’re not only giving up producing one single itinerary. We’re hoping that the bulletin will also work to inform neighborhoods with specific types of destinations.

Before COVID-19, what did you want to do for the time during NYCxDesign? 

For the first year, we never really envisioned it to be a show on exhibit, even though we still have plans for expansion into that realm. What we wanted to do from the very beginning, is build-out a digital itinerary that could live on a platform, that sort of acted as a guide. A very specific curated guide that was informed by designers and influencers in this field and from New York. 

We didn’t want to overextend ourselves for the first year. That was going to be this year. So we were like, maybe I can’t afford a festival that’s an itinerary of just the best of the best of what’s going on in the city right now.

As our main partnership was going to be with ICFF, we were going to have a booth that had screens with the itinerary. But, it was canceled.

Who is curating the show?

We have a board of curators that were going to be involved previous to COVID-19 and are still involved now. Those curators are a really good resource for us because they’re all very familiar with the city intimately. Some of our curators are Paola Antonelli from MoMA, Steven Lerner from Collective, and Malene Barnett from Black Artists and Designers Guild. 

What kind of programming are you planning for the rest of the year? 

Robert Higa: We are not doing any virtual tours or any virtual gallery visits. We are focusing on creating an itinerary for short walking tours in the city because as New York reopens people are going to want to be able to get out. July 15th is when we’re going to start with a couple of walking tours and highlight design that is visible from the outside. Also, maybe places to eat that we want people to know about.

Madeleine Parsons: The other thing that that’s really important to me and to all three of us is that areas of intersection that our individual communities of design overlap with areas in the city. So that is the food industry in a lot of ways. And it’s in different ways too. Who’s the interior designer that designs that restaurant that just opened up in Bushwick? It’s all of these details. We felt there should be a design festival that was better suited to exploring those connections.

Jean Lin: It’s a work in progress right now, but I think the specifics are that we’re going to focus on neighborhoods because we recognize that public transportation isn’t necessarily ideal right now. We want to be able to give anyone in the city who’s interested in experiencing at least a little bit of the design walk tours, an option within walking distance for them to experience. Then, we are going to do a bike tour as well that allows for a bigger geographic area to be covered on bikes. 

We want to find ways to reinvigorate the city and designers to go back out there without fear. I think that’s going to be a big challenge for all of us, coming out of this on the other side. Who knows when that will be?