Theaster Gates’ New Incubator to Elevate, Mentor and Fund Creators of Color
Damarr Brown was raised in Harvey by his mother, aunt and grandmother. To help him stay out of trouble, Brown said, the three women often pulled Brown into the kitchen. Before long, he needed no persuasion.
“Once my mom realized I liked it, she leaned into it,” Brown said. “We watched Emeril Lagasse Live together, she would buy me ingredients and challenge me to make things. She made it really fun for me, she really encouraged me to take this journey.
This journey took him to the Cooking and Hospitality Institute in Chicago, and ultimately to Virtue, 1462 E 53rd St., the Hyde Park restaurant where he has served as executive chef since 2018.
Now he is also one of 14 members of the inaugural class of the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab, it was announced on Tuesday.
The Design Lab, a collaboration between the Rebuild Foundation at Theaster Gates and the Prada Group, aims to elevate and invest in color makers from fashion, architecture and industrial arts.
“We spent a lot of time looking at how many fashion houses in the design world and museum institutions recognized and celebrated the contributions of black artists and designers and people of color, but it seemed like a lot of that was a marketing strategy. said Gates, co-chair of the Prada Group’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board.
He wanted to increase diversity efforts and create a pipeline for color designers – so he pitched the Design Lab idea to Prada.
Nearly 200 people were nominated by leaders in the creative industries; those who offered potential candidates included writer and director Ava Duvernay and the late designer Virgil Abloh. Two groups of Design Lab nominees will each spend 18 months in the program. With support from Prada, over $250,000 in designer stipends.
Gates said aspects of the program are still being refined, but the Design Lab will be anchored on the South Side, with trips to Los Angeles and New York to share their work.
“I want to use this knowledge and demonstrate what we do at Virtue and hopefully bring more people to Virtue,” Brown said. “I know there are a lot of people who don’t necessarily feel like they belong, who want to cook, who want to learn, but who don’t see themselves in these restaurants. And I think it’s really hard to see yourself doing something if you don’t see anyone who looks like you doing it.
For Catherine Sarr, jewelry designer and founder of Almasika, the program is an opportunity to discuss.
“It’s really about innovation,” Sarr said. “It’s going to help me in my practice to think outside of my own industry.”
Sarr was born in Paris and for 10 years lived in London, where she had the idea for Almasika. When Sarr moved to Chicago in 2016, the city became the jewelry store’s base of operations. Sarr’s designs have been worn by many celebrities, including actress Reese Witherspoon, musician Alicia Keys and even former first lady Michelle Obama.
It was in Chicago that Sarr began thinking about the social impact his business could have. While Almasika uses recycled gold and responsibly sourced diamonds, Sarr wants to launch new projects to give back to the city.
Chicago is “a city with a very strong civic aspect,” Sarr said. “Social and corporate impact was at the heart of Almasika from the start, but it was mostly in terms of sourcing. With Chicago, a city where you are constantly asked, “What are you doing for the city? I had never thought of social impact in this way.
Sarr isn’t the only one thinking about social impact. Product designer Norman Teague creates furniture that he says tells stories.
Being selected for the Design Lab, Teague said, is a step toward “design coming closer to communities of color.”
“Let’s face it,” he said. “The South Side, the West Side and other parts of Chicago are about to go through some very beautiful changes and transformations. Knowing that people within this community can play a part in this…is crucial.
Teague hopes the Design Lab will be an opportunity for collaboration.
“Learning from each other can have a huge impact,” he said.
Brown is also looking forward to the chance to work with the other people chosen for Design Lab, and hopes this will lead to events that will attract more designers of color.
“It’s an opportunity to spread more visibility about what we’re doing,” Brown said. “I chose to try to mentor and develop young food artists, mostly of color. I want to continue to provide global space for people like me who just can’t knock on the backdoor of a restaurant and get a job right away. And hopefully that will help grow and build that space.
The other four selected Chicago-area designers and their areas of expertise are Kendall Reynolds, Footwear; Maya Bird-Murphy, architecture; Brandon Breaux, fine arts and design; and Summer Coleman, graphic design.
The others selected for the inaugural Design Lab are:
Tolu Coker, fashion designer, London.
Germane Barnes, architecture, Miami.
Kyle Abraham, dance, New York.
Mariam Issoufou Kamara, architecture, Niamey, Niger.
Yemi Amu, agriculture, New York.
Kenturah Davis, visual art, Los Angeles.
Salome Asega, art, technology and design, New York.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for Americaa non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the South and West Sides.