By Cecilia Vidal, Cooper Hewitt Education Associate

The Covid-19 epidemic and the murder of George Floyd were each events that sparked nation-wide and global reckonings of race and inequality. 2020 became a critical year for rethinking existing institutional structures. Museums had and have a responsibility to authentically reflect and engage with their communities. In February 2021 Design Collective, a youth-driven museum program formed as a way for Cooper Hewitt to tap into the education needs of emerging designers. This 15-week sequence of virtual meet-ups brought together seven emerging designers, who In exchange for their expertise each earned a stipend.   

Cooper Hewitt had a previous youth program called Design Scholars—many participants of the new Design Collective had been a part of this legacy program. In Design Scholars, students explored different design disciplines through hands-on workshops and field trips, and we hoped to expand upon this concept by allowing young designers to provide their leadership, insight, and knowledge. 

We reached out to emerging designers who had a previous connection to Cooper Hewitt. For example, some were former Design Scholars and others had been enthusiastic attendees of our Design Snacks and Design Career Fair programs. This group of seven participants, ages 17–23, came from varied design backgrounds, but found common ground in their interest in design, equity, and cross-disciplinary collaboration.  

This group met with Cooper Hewitt Education team members weekly, and facilitated dialogues with designers, educators, and Cooper Hewitt and Smithsonian staff. Creatives such as Dr. Dori Tunstall, OnRaé Watkins, and Nomadic Archivists Project, among so many others, joined in deep conversations with the Design Collective members. These conversations informed the development of their prototype for the ideal youth program at Cooper Hewitt but also allowed for broader discussions about the future of museums, representation in design, and the concept of decolonization. 

Design Collective participants used  Miro, an online white board and visual collaboration platform, to create a virtual studio space where they brainstormed, gave shape to ideas, and shared their work. We originally wanted the product of these conversations to be a creative response or prototype, but the Design Collective exceeded our expectations. The group made it clear to us that they wanted to create a program that would be viable and enriching for future participants and the museum as at large. 

The result of the Design Collective was the development of the new program, Design Hive, which highlights peer mentorship. 

In the new Design Hive program, mentorship can come from many sources: curators and educators at the museum, visiting designers and makers, peers, and objects in the Cooper Hewitt Collection. 

Design Hive is a paid program for students ages 16–22, launching on Thursday November 18th, 2021. Each year Design Hive will tackle an important question. This year, we will invite students to consider “how might design be a tool for change?” 


Featured Image: Sample, Hexagons; Designed by Alexander Hayden Girard (American, 1907–1993); USA; linen; 30.5 x 30.5 cm (12 x 12 in. ); Gift of Alexander H. Girard; 1969-165-106

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