People often forget that Cooper-Hewitt is a Smithsonian museum and with that comes a commitment to spreading the word about design across the country. As part of our A City of Neighborhoods program we teach K-12 teachers from coast to coast how to bring design thinking into their classroom. In addition to the training itself we visit the teachers and their students during the spring to get to know their school and to see their progress in bringing design to their students and community. I recently returned from a trip to Boonville, IN and Muskegon Heights, MI and will soon visit other cities such as Davenport, IA, San Diego, CA, Hampton, VA, Miami, FL to name a few. I wanted to share one example of what we do when we visit a school and their community. In Muskegon Heights, MI I followed up with two educators; the Director of Education at Muskegon Museum of Art and an educator from their local elementary schools. I am aiding them in developing an all day program on how texture is used in design as problem-solving for a group of students grades 1-4. After a nice lunch meeting with the teachers at Mia and Grace, which served dishes such as duck PB&J, we went over to a local elementary school where I presented a design workshop for a group of 3rd graders. Before I began the teacher pointed out Cooper-Hewitt’s New York City location on a map so the kids can see its distance from their small town in Michigan. One student's hand immediately shot straight up and asked me, “Do they speak English in New York?” I could not help but smile. After that question lightened up the room we began our design challenge which was: “Transport a goldfish from the pet store to your home on a bicycle while keeping both hands on the handlebars….(you may not use a plastic bag).” There were some great design solutions that remind us at Cooper-Hewitt why we do what we do.
Upon my return to New York I contacted Herman Miller, which is headquartered only 30 minutes outside of Muskegon Heights. I informed them of the texture design project and they are generously working with their design team to identify some examples to share with the Muskegon Heights elementary kids. Two Michigan educators, a local art museum, an iconic design firm and Cooper-Hewitt all working together to bring design to some great kids.