Designs On Dissent

The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum recognizes the works of designers in an annual ceremony held in conjunction with the White House Millennium Council. The purpose of the program is to celebrate “design in various disciplines as a vital humanistic tool in shaping the world.”

Some of the winners of the 2006 awards did their part to shape the world and demonstrate their humanity by refusing to participate in the ceremony hosted by First Lady, Laura Bush. Their letter, detailing the reasons for choosing to stay away, was published by the Design Observer and says, in part:

“it is our belief that the current administration of George W. Bush has used the mass communication of words and images in ways that have seriously harmed the political discourse in America. We therefore feel it would be inconsistent with those values previously stated to accept an award celebrating language and communication, from a representative of an administration that has engaged in a prolonged assault on meaning.”

The letter was signed by 2006 winners Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, and Georgie Stout, of the 2×4 design studio; finalist Paula Scher; and last year’s winner Stefan Sagmeister.

I applaud these patriots for staking out a position that comes with some risk and some personal sacrifice. Their willingness to resist the lure of the halls of power for the sake of their principles is commendable. I, myself, might have shown up and made my statement in the spotlight in which the White House glows. But I cannot criticize the method these folks used to speak their minds.

I believe that the creative arts are an invaluable resource for movement building and social progress. I am also disappointed that this resource is so glaringly underused. Historically, artists have always been the key to inspiring and motivating people to take action. It is their conscience, passion, and communication skills that resonate through our communities and culture. Artists need to reassert themselves in the public sphere and assume their traditional role as interpreters of the human condition. Until they do, I fear that the stage will be left to the decidedly dull discourse of pundits and politicians.