DesignPhiladelphia celebrates creativity in the city

at Liao Collection Asian Antiques emporium, where Mayor Nutter will be honored.
at Liao Collection Asian Antiques emporium, where Mayor Nutter will be honored. (Antique cabinets and cases)
Posted: October 13, 2011

Architects, hairstylists, graphic artists, fashion designers, urban planners, multimedia makers, product designers, and more are expected to turn out for the seventh annual DesignPhiladelphia celebration, opening Thursday.

In partnership with the University of the Arts and in coordination with National Design Week, America's largest design party isn't relegated to Philly studios full of easels and laptops or boardrooms struck by PowerPoint lightning. Instead, there are outdoor shows and street happenings, private workshops and public forums occurring Thursday through Oct. 23, all geared toward presenting how design - in ways big and small - affects our everyday existence.

"DesignPhiladelphia is celebrating the creative force in our city, and working in a collaborative style to help attract, engage, and retain the best and brightest to ignite conversations, provide education, and enhance participation here," says Hilary Jay, the founding director of DesignPhiladelphia and a onetime Inquirer scribe.

"Given the great expansion of creative energy in this city and the growing numbers of creatives living and working here, this annual celebration continues to grow annually and remains the largest event of its kind nationwide."

If a Phabergé Egg hunt (Oct. 16), events with innovative designers such as Lucite jewelry artist Alexis Bittar (Oct. 14), a peek at the new Lenfest Hall at the Curtis Institute of Music (Oct. 19), walking tours of Philly's un-Viaduct at the corner of 22d Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (Oct. 15), or a future-forward interactive installation at Bartram's Garden (Oct. 16) is your cup of tea, those things occur later in the week. But DesignPhiladelphia's opening day alone is jammed full of diverse attractions.

It features a three-tiered opening soiree on the 300 block of North 11th Street. There is a benefit for DesignPhiladelphia at the Liao Collection Asian Antiques emporium, where the first annual Design Champion Award will go to Mayor Nutter for his support of the area's creative class. Farther down the block an hour later, three of Philly's most adventurous galleries - Grizzly Grizzly, Vox Populi, and the Action Mill - will offer new installations, designer food trucks, and projections from the Klip Collective.

A big part of that Grizzly Grizzly Gallery event is Philadelphia expat (and current Brooklyn resident) Patrick Gavin. The artist and furniture designer leads by the example in functionalism and practical use of space. In his sparsely arranged Grizzly installation "USE, PURPOSE," Gavin uses spatial dividers and offers abstract takes on everyday objects. At Vox Populi, there's the "Gang Print Run" exhibition of Philly graphic designers, each making a mark locally and nationally: Dan Gneiding is a senior graphic designer at Urban Outfitters, Elysse Ricci is a catalog designer with Anthropologie, and designer Mikey Burton deals with clients as diverse as Comedy Central and the New York Times.

If you're looking for something a little more titillating, the newly opened kitsch go-go joint the Trestle Inn opens its doors for the "Curlie Show" - a presentation of burlesque-oriented teasing (hair, flirty behavior) with tonsorial delights from Richard Nicholas Hair Studio. "What do hairdressers know about design? Show up and find out," says Jay.

Earlier that afternoon at 2400 Market Street's tony furnishing megalopolis, the Marketplace Design Center, "The Height of Luxury: The Rise of Art Deco and Haute Couture" will feature the former executive director of the Washington Design Center, James Caughman, discussing Paris' role in the forging of European design and fine-art aesthetics during the first three decades of the 20th century. He'll also talk about the handcrafted haute couture movement.

A final note on opening night: Drexel University's Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design will host an advance screening of a new documentary on design's first couple, the late Charles and Bernice "Ray" Eames. EAMES: The Architect and the Painter is produced and directed by Bill Jersey and Jason Cohn. The film, narrated by James Franco, leaps into the family's archival material. It's a portrait of a smart, collaborative couple at work; of particular interest to design nerds are the film, photographic, and textile catalogs made and kept by the Eameses.

Yes, a film about furniture is the type of thing that makes DesignPhiladelphia great.

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