Design Goes Virtual in the Only UNESCO City of Design in America this September

Design Core Detroit Prepares for a Unique Month of Design for its 10th Anniversary


Design is an ever-changing and ever-growing process. It is more than fashion or art, it is an expression of lifestyle, experiences, and personal truths that beg to be understood. It is practical, helpful, innovative, and made to fit the needs of the people. It may be inclusive, diverse, and ever-changing. Design and its definition are held close to Detroit Design Core as their 10th annual Month of Design draws near. 

Month of Design began in 2011 as the Detroit Design Festival. At the time, the festival was less than a week-long, containing one, sometimes two, large exhibitions. As the years went on, the Design Core team found themselves adding events before and after the festival, and soon there were too many events to be contained within a single week. Momentum around the festival and the city’s focus on diversity led to Detroit being named the only UNESCO city in the United States. This achievement in 2015 pushed Design Core further to showcase and support more designers, leading to the lengthening of the festival and the changing of its name.

Design Goes Virtual in the Only UNESCO City of Design in America this September 1


This year, however, looks different than past years as social distancing guidelines remain in place, due to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. To Design Core, however, this only served as a way to rework and rethink the festival. Executive producer at Design Core, Olga Stella, says, “There was never a question that we weren’t going to do this.” She continues, “The goal of Month of Design is not necessarily about having an exhibition or a party or a street festival. The goal is about helping more people learn who the designers are. Giving people a reason and an understanding of what is special about our [Detroit’s] talent and getting people excited about that.” 

When the pandemic began, Design Core was in the middle of accepting applicants for this year’s addition to Month of Design,

Design Goes Virtual in the Only UNESCO City of Design in America this September 2


the Design in the City Competition, funded by Gucci Changemakers. This competition is set out to give artists a chance to showcase their art on a grander scale by pairing each winner with a local business or studio where they will have an installation throughout the month. Design Core, with this in mind, was able to determine the look of this year’s Month of Design. 

Many of the 75 events and special projects will be held on a digital platform, and events in person, most of which are outside, are held to Michigan’s social distancing guidelines. Installations and exhibits held in-person have their own unique flair, something setting them apart not only from past years in the form of design but in presentability as well, in a way to enforce social distancing guidelines. 

Design Goes Virtual in the Only UNESCO City of Design in America this September 3


Behind the installations and exhibits are the designers themselves. Stella discusses the more than 175 participants of this year’s Month of Design, “When you look at our schedule it’s extremely diverse,” she says. “The face of who is being showcased and the themes are authentic Detroit. We will never have a Month of Design that is not authentic to Detroit. It has to be relevant globally. In terms of things that we are talking about. But it has to mean something to people in Detroit too or it would be missing the marks.”  

As September draws near, Design Core looks ahead to this special Month of Design. “We have never had this many exhibitions on our calendar,” says Stella. “When I started we were struggling to get one or two good exhibitions. It shows the growing support even during a pandemic. I can only imagine if we hadn’t had a pandemic what it would have been like.”

This year has an important sense of community that no other Month of Design has had. The Covid-19 pandemic has distanced many of us, causing us to feel lonely and unsettled. Because of this, one can only imagine how this event, focused on designs presented and influenced by the beautiful diversity of Detroit, can ignite that feeling of togetherness we have lacked throughout this year.