Open Dialogue:
The Process

May 2019
Reflections by Kelly Walters

In Spring 2018, I led a study abroad cohort from the University of Connecticut at Central Saint Martins (CSM). During my time abroad, I facilitated the creation of a design project that was part open forum, art exhibition, and visible platform for UAL students of Afro-Caribbean descent. As an artist and designer, I have continually tried to find ways for my design work to incorporate an openness in regards to sharing thoughts about race, and creating spaces for dialogue to discuss the complexity of one’s own identity. In academic environments, discussions surrounding race and identity can often be uncomfortable, yet it is extremely imperative for us hold space for reflection and discussion. The Open Dialogue project was an example of a design intervention that began to address these concerns. In reflecting, over a year later, I’ve had time to unpack the impact that was felt and highlight criticial aspects of our process in its creation. The images that are shown below document each phase of this 6 week project and the collaborators who helped make it happen.

At the start of term, I was invited by BA Graphic Communication Design (GCD) course Leader Peter Hall to give a presentation to second year graphics students. In my presentation I shared my personal design projects and demonstrated the ways in which I look to mainstream media for inspiration in my design process. At the conclusion of my presentation, I was met with a series of questions mainly from blacks students in the room. Seeing this happen, student Terrayne Brown, challenged his classmates to think about why.

One might believe the lack of response from others students may have been in part to being scared to speak publicly for fear of saying something incorrect. It may also have been that students wanted to avoid being in the spotlight. I felt, however, it might have been a mixture of those sentiments as well as active avoidance of talking about race itself. 

Following the presentation, I debriefed with Peter Hall and Programme Director of GCD, Rebecca Wright, I wanted to learn more about the experiences of black students at CSM and hear why they thought some students weren’t speaking up in the larger group discussion.

I considered ways that another conversation could be held to investigate this further. In order to do this, I created a series of posters promoting open forums that I would be leading in the following week, aimed at listening to the experiences of black students in a more informal small group setting.

Open Forum print posters and graphics for CSM News Twitter

Discussions with students – Day 1

Discussions with students – Day 2

The forums were a mixture of black students from across CSM and were an opportunity to share how race had impacted their lives as students and in their everyday lives. In sharing my own experiences, I could connect with similar circumstances that I had experienced myself as a student. By the end of the open forums, there was momentum to consider the possibility of holding an exhibition for students of black or African descent at CSM.

With our plan in motion, I reached out to UAL staff members who were already doing racial equity work for guidance. I connected with Aisha Richards of Shades of Noir  early in the process to learn more about what programming was already happening at UAL and how I could support existing networks already in place across the university. She was instrumental in sharing her insight and suggesting that the exhibition be open to the not just CSM students but the other UAL colleges as well.

Outside of Peter Hall and Rebecca Wright, two other critical pieces to our planning and organization were GCD staff members Kate Pelen and Mike McShane. I was able to rely on Kate’s institutional knowledge of CSM about external and internal communications. Kate sat in on planning meetings held alongside students who were helping to plan the event. Mike McShane was critical helping to shape how we can intervene in the GCD studios to install the work. Our biggest supporters were CSM students: Anoushka Khandwala, Shannon Bono and Favour Jonathan. This grassroots effort helped with promoting the call for submissions and getting flyers posted around to each UAL college.

The call for submissions on our Tumblr wesbite and flyers posted around UAL campuses

Anoushka Khandwala (CSM GCD Student ‘18) and Kate Pelen (Program Liaison) in a planning meeting

(Top): Tyler Prior and Simba Ncube (CSM GCD Students ‘19) working on the designs for the show. (Below): Initial sketches for the layout for the poster and digital graphics

Installation in the GCD studio with students and Mike McShane
GCD students Tyler Prior and Simba Ncube helped to shape the design of the branding. Collaboratively we worked together to consider an identity that would be contemporary, unique, and easily translatable across print and digital channels. Together, we considered an identity that would move away from “primitive” or stereotypical black aesthetics and reframe a fresh perspective. Inspired by a patterned texture from Tyler, we experimented with combining a bold typography using a limited color palette of orange, black and white. The visual design system would ultimately be applied to print and digital share graphics on facebook, twitter and instagram. In our brainstorm, we finally chose the offical name of the exhibition – Open Dialogue: Artists + Designers of African Descent.

Poster and print program 

On opening night, we created space for student presenters to share about their art practice. This was a major component of the evening and opportunity for the UAL community to learn more about Afro-Caribbean student experiences at UAL. Jawara Alleyne (LCF), Alicia-Pearl Cato (Wimbledon), Rayvenn D’Clark (Chelsea), Andrew Hart (Chelsea), Olivia Mathurin-Essandoh (LCC), Tyler Prior (CSM) and Dami Vaughan (CSM) were the selected presenters for the evening. Each presenter shared their individual stories, gave context around their ethnic heritage and how those influences shaped their work and  personal identity. 

With the success of the exhibition, we were invited to exhibit a piece in the Lethaby Window Galleries at Central Saint Martins. The Lethaby Window Gallery is located at the main entrance of the CSM building and is one of the most accessible to both the UAL community and visitors. In an adaptation of the print program, I was inspired to turn the artist statements into a long tapestry that integrated all the writing of each exhibiting artist collectively into a single poster.

A few months later in July 2018, the Open Dialogue project was selected to be shared at the Reconstructing Practice: Toward an Antiracist Art + Design Field conference at ArtCenter in Pasadena, CA. With support from Shades of Noir, Rayvenn D’Clark was able to accompany me (on her first trip to the U.S.) to be a co-presenter in sharing the Open Dialogue project.

     Poster for Normal to Dissent

Kelly Walters and Rayvenn D’Clark at Reconstructing Practice Conference at ArtCenter in Pasadena, California
I’m interested in how we as design educators may be able to connect with more students of African descent and allow them to feel connected to their artistic communities while in school. Trying and experimenting with various curricular formats that work with and against normal flows of an academic institutions are a part of this process. Continued dialogue about these topics in art institutions is critical to widening the gaze of intercultural art discourse in the classroom setting and expanding the space for inclusion for students of color in the arts. 

The success of this project could not have happened without the generous support of Rebecca Wright, Peter Hall, Kate Pelen, Mike McShane, Anoushka Khandwala, Inês Barbosa da Costa, Simba Ncube, Tyler Prior, Terrayne Brown, Ella Okoromadu, Shannon Bono, Favour J, the CSM’s Graphic Communication Design Programme and University Arts London. I truly appreciate the openness you shared with me throughout the course of this project and encouraging it to take shape within the Graphic Communication Design spaces. I’d also like to thank the exhibiting artists and designers: Carianne Annan, Alicia-Pearl Cato (presenter), Indiana Lawrence, Moyosore Iyanalu Briggs, Fadzayi Sango, Madelynn Mae Green, Olivia Mathurin-Essandoh (presenter), Daniel Chapman, Favour Jonathan, Imann Gaye, Julie Wright, Glory Samjolly, Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark (presenter), Jawara Alleyne (presenter), Shannon Bono, Uzoma Orji, Victoria Ohuruogu, Nas Connie, Terrayne Brown, Rebecca Bellantoni, Tyler Prior (presenter), Dami Vaughan (presenter), Ella Okoromadu, Inês Barbosa da Costa, Andrew Hart (presenter), Ashton Attzs, Gabriel Choto, Roseanne Ofori-Darkwah, Sandra Poulson and Simba Ncube.
Design by Anoushka Khandwala + Kelly Walters