I was fortunate enough to be in a group of three, so I received two responses to my lengthy, and probably boring explanation of my degree project. They are as follows:
How can the majority be given an experience through an interactive exhibit that encourages ethnic discovery of the local minority groups through an educational space full of culture and traditional artifacts?
Through experiential and exhibit design, how can I communicate a new open-mindedness and appreciation for ethnic minorities in KC for the majority?
So, maybe it would be useful to recap how I introduced my degree project to them, before I attempt to combine the two into a question that will haunt me for the rest of the semester.
I introduced my degree project at my senior presentation as "packaging cultural language". People say you go to college to find yourself, and through my college experience I've discovered a passion for anthropology, human rights, race, art history, and politics. This has manifested in my work in the past few semesters through the lens of my own personal experience: being in a mixed race family, half white, half Arabic. Using my own ethnicity as a diving board for these issues, I've come to the conclusion last semester that helping only one culture through 'design thinking' is in some ways just as bad as discrimination itself, as it creates a kind of "zoo" atmosphere around that ethnicity. In my degree project, I'm hoping to broaden my horizons anthropologically and culturally by working with local Kansas City minorities, to recount the story of the beauty of their traditions through design. In my research, I've found the following minorities that have a high contingency in the Kansas City metro:
Hispanic (largest population is Mexican)
Restaurants: Pancho’s, El Rancho, Cancun
Restaurant: Vietnam Cafe (39th)
Various Asian markets
Organization: Kansas City Ethiopian Connection Group’s (ECG)
Restaurant: Blue Nile (River Market & Various Locations)
Numbers around 6,000
Specific neighborhood (Northeast Kansas City)
Less apt to integrate, because they live in specific communities
Widespread poverty, ethnic refugees due to civil war
Heart of America Native American Society
Large population in surrounding region (Topeka)
(Influx during 1990’s due to civil war)
(Numbers around 4,000)
Restaurants: Korma Sutra
Restaurants: Aladdin’s, Jerusalem (Various Locations), Sinbad’s Hookah
I hope to choose a few of these ethnicities (from 3-6) and use my design skill-set to act as a middle-ground between the conservative majority, and the unrepresented minority. I'm highly interested in context, and considering a more interdisciplinary approach to how this can be translated. Through my initial research I've found that the reason many people don't identify with another culture is because of a lack of a concrete personal relationship with a representative of that culture. But what would this relationship entail?
Generally, modern friendships involve the most primitive or banal of human activities: the first and most obvious:
Spending time with the other person.
Through what kinds of activites? Eating, drinking, entertainment, general leisure, etc.
And in what environments does this naturally happen? Or maybe more specifically, what environments facilitate this kind of interaction?
Cafe's, Domestic spaces, "comfy" places, etc.
The common denominator is informal, comfortable, intimate.
The problem with most attempts to encourage ethnic appreciation is the tone that they take. Museums, books, magazines generally create some kind of formal atmosphere through which they "introduce" the culture. The focus of this project will be the opposite: to introduce them in a comfortable, intuitive, and entertaining way that encourages interaction and discovery.
But what is design's role in all of this? Design shapes spaces, and in turn, shapes people. The purposeful arrangement of elements in buildings, furniture, music, games, even food shapes more subconscious human behavior. To some designers, so-called "good design" is invisible. And this concept itself is interesting: for something to look as if it simply exists, that it wasn't "created" but simply "is." I believe that design has so many more possibilities for affecting the human subconscious in socially positive ways, and in short, that is what I hope my degree project will accomplish. I hope to design a holistic experience for my audience through the purposeful arrangement of spaces, objects, and yes, two-dimensional graphics. With all the pieces working in tandem, I hope to facilitate a new open-mindedness when it comes to ethnicity.
Hm. Long-winded? Yikes. Maybe its time to distill all this down and unveil the question:
Through an investigation in spatial design and packaging, how can a holistic, interdisciplinary experience be created for an ignorant majority, that encourages a new open-mindedness and appreciation for ethnic minorities in Kansas City?