April 27, 2017

The Art of Listening: Cheryl Pope at 62nd monthly CreativeMornings chapter in Chicago


February 24, 2017: Cheryl Pope’s multimedia projects are composed with a sensitive mix of words, spoken and visible, situated to provoke interaction from her audience. But in her address to the Chicago CreativeMornings chapter, the focus was not on expression, but listening, claiming that it is “the most political act.” Her personal manifesto starts with:
“The role of the artist is to make the invisible felt.
To help a people understand their experience.
To document this search and understanding.
To challenge, question, and ask.
To shed light in dark places.
To listen.”
Her adjacent influence is, as she put it, “the physicality of language.” One of the best, and most formidable, unions of listening and language, to my recent recollection, was Marina Abramović’s “The Artist is Present”—performed from March 14 to May 31, 2010, at the Museum of Modern Art. For 736 hours and 30 minutes, Abramović sat in front of 1,545 sitters across from her. Hi-fi. Lo-fi. Listening without losing.

After being present with Abramović, Yazmany Arboleda, also an artist, shared this account:
“Walking around the museum, people on different floors stop to ask me how it felt to sit with her. ‘How long did you sit for? How was it? How did it feel?’ My friend, who had come to document the entire ordeal with her camera, turns to me and exclaims: ‘It’s as if paintings could talk.’”
And when paintings have something to say, it’s a chance to glean what the message could be. To Pope, art offers space—a listening room for one’s mood, even state of mind, to be reached. To be “the channel,” as the poet Gabriela Mistral practiced:
“I write poetry because I can’t disobey the impulse; it would be like blocking a spring that surges up in my throat. For a long time, I’ve been the servant of the song that comes, that appears and can’t be buried away. How to seal myself up now?…It no longer matters to me who receives what I submit. What I carry out is, in that respect, greater and deeper than I, I am merely the channel.”
Joining the pursuits of Abramović and Mistral, contributing to the artistic ledger of meaningful transactions, and reinforcing the advantage of art on the side of the vulnerable, Pope’s work and talk urged CreativeMornings attendees to endure this challenge: Still listen.

• • •

Pope’s artistic practice includes boxing. The soundtrack while writing featured prominently rapper LL Cool J’s hip-hop hit “Mama Said Knock You Out” (1990):
“Don’t call it a comeback
I’ve been here for years…
I’m gonna knock you out
Mama said knock you out…”
• • •

Big thanks: to AgencyEASavage Smyth (who also hosted), Green SheepLyft Chicago, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #62; to new organizer Jen Marquez who accepted the chapter’s hosting responsibilities from Knoed Creative who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to have CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008.

• • •

Read more CreativeMornings coverage.


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April 23, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Amy Papaelias Co-Founded Alphabettes.org to Promote Women’s Work in Type Design, Typography and The Lettering Arts



What are you working on—on the side?

I help run Alphabettes.org, a network and blog that promotes the work of women in type design, typography and lettering. Alphabettes is very much a collective and collaborative effort. Members of the network run different initiatives such as developing ideas and articles for the blog, organizing events and activities at conferences, and organizing and maintaining the mentorship program. Our lack of structure can sometimes be chaotic, but it also allows for more flexibility and spontaneity. Despite being hardcore craftspeople and unabashed nerds, we also try not to take ourselves too seriously.

Other recent projects include co-editing (with Jessica Barness) “Critical Making: Design and the Digital Humanities”—a special issue of “Visible Language,” and I am currently on the organizing committee for the upcoming AIGA Design Educators conference “Converge: Disciplinarities and Digital Scholarship,” June 1–3, 2017, in Los Angeles.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

These projects happen in between teaching, family and everything else. I’m also a serial collaborator. I love working with really smart, kickass people. These days, I find it’s a lot more difficult for me to be productive when I’m the only author on a project. Collaboration, and the fear of letting down people I respect and admire, forces me to make time. Also, thanks to having had two kids on the tenure track, I’m pretty tolerant of existing in a constant state of sleep-deprived multi-tasking.

Why have a side project

In my talk at the Type Directors Club last year, I made the comment that I don’t have side projects, I have a research agenda. I see my work with Alphabettes as part of my scholarly interests at the intersections of culture, typography and technology. For design educators, the line between side projects, scholarship and practice are blurry. I thrive on the ambiguity and feel very fortunate to, whenever possible, bring this work into my teaching.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Amy Papaelias—Portrait by Tom Smith.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


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April 19, 2017

Contemplating CreativeMornings and Zooming in on the Chicago Chapter


CreativeMornings is an international series of monthly talks dedicated to creativity and its community. There are currently chapters in 164 cities—in 2011, it came to Chicago, “My Kind of Town.” And CreativeMornings is my kind of design conference: local, no-frills and grounded. What I find in CreativeMornings is the same renewable source of vitality that drives my passion project of Design Feast: creative culture.

Having started in January, designer and Chicagoan Jen Marquez is the new organizer of the CreativeMornings/Chicago chapter. She wrote an op-ed piece for the blog of Agency EA, this year’s partner involved in helping to move the CreativeMornings/Chicago chapter forward. Being an observer of breakfast lecture series CreativeMornings (explore my 65+ write-ups, particularly on the Chicago chapter), I was positively provoked by what Jen shared, and felt that there were opportunities to further clarify and spread the wealth of support that CreativeMornings, specifically its Chicago chapter, attracts.

The system is a fundamental part 
of the solution

Obviously, a CreativeMornings chapter doesn’t just pop into existence. In her post, Jen gave a snapshot on how the CreativeMornings/Chicago chapter got real—a story of human initiative in building something good and, at the same time, galvanizing a community. A chapter (pun surely intended) in this story was the chapter’s first gathering in 2011. The most special to me (read my write-up) in the chapter’s history. CreativeMornings founder, SwissMiss a.k.a. Tina Roth Eisenberg, flew in to attend and gave remarks. Chicago became the fifth city to join CreativeMornings and the first happening in the Midwest. Typographer Jessica Hische was also a part of the event. Chicago-based photographer-phenom Paul Octavious and two members, Alex Fuller and Chad Kouri, of Chicago-based collaborative The Post Family also attended and who all later spoke at a chapter gathering. Read my write-up of Paul’s awesome talk about the “Fucking Future.”

Since 2013, the CreativeMornings/Chicago chapter has evolved dramatically under the direction of Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed, who comprise graphic design studio Knoed Creative. They helped forge what the chapter needed desperately: Infrastructure. Their efforts improved the chapter from the inside out. Have consistent monthly gatherings?—Done. Film and archive each event?—Done. Advance an inherited Web-based toolkit to facilitate and govern the flow of chapter-organizing information? Done.

Another change that was particularly welcome: Far more women speakers. Before Knoed Creative’s management of the CreativeMornings/Chicago chapter, there only were two female speakers—Kim then Sara Frisk, who also spoke in 2012 when she was a Communication Design Lead at IDEO (read my write-up). Jen too is visibly advancing this pattern—boosted by the mindful efforts of Kim and Kyle.

Systems thinking and execution can be a gift that keeps giving. CreativeMornings/Chicago chapter attendees, plus future hosts and organizers, have Kim and Kyle to thank for how smooth and connected the CreativeMornings/Chicago chapter is, turning it into a system that benefits everyone. The chapter’s quality and stature is primarily due to their four years of proactive and steadfast attention to detail. A friend of mine said, “Some organizers are more organized than others.” Kim and Kyle have demonstrated themselves as the more organized organizers.

A city’s creative community 
isn’t exclusive to visual artists

No doubt, artists constitute a richness of Chicago’s creative scene. Jen reinforced this fact. But other creative individuals have expressed their perspectives on the CreativeMornings/Chicago stage. There are also:
  • Software designers and developers, like Jason Fried, who co-founded 37signals—renamed Basecamp, after its popular web app for project management → My write-up
  • Creative agencies, like Digital Kitchen → My write-up
  • Printers, like Jay Ryan of The Bird Machine → My write-up
  • Product designers, like Shawn Smith → My write-up
  • Craftspeople, like Raun Meyn of FoundRe → My write-up
  • Educators, like Erin Huizenga, who founded Till School and EPIC → My write-up
  • Bakers, like Sandra and Mathieu Holl of Floriole → My write-up
And the landscape of creative disciplines unfolds furthermore on a monthly basis, via the CreativeMornings vehicle. A multidisciplinary serving of viewpoints, matched by a body of work, with creativity a strong current circulating throughout.

CreativeMornings is a free event
(requiring a lot of investment)

An advantage of CreativeMornings’ appeal is that there’s no admission fee. The common, even siloed, perception of “free” remains with this definition—this one metric. Yet, “free” exceeds the absence of ticket price. It largely testifies to the fact that each CreativeMornings/Chicago meetup is only achieved through an orchestrated range of actions, in essence: Raw human power (as I put it in this past write-up). Making a monthly series of events, year after year, consumes much time and energy when you take the ideation, planning, managing, physicality—and slew of micro-actions in between, into account. It’s a work-out!

Yet the noble efforts are not apparent to a number of attendees. Rare as it is, whenever I encounter someone who complains about CreativeMornings, I point them to the fact that it’s volunteer-driven. If they fail to find this fact profound, even motivational, they may, I strongly suspect, be reminded comfortably that it’s “free” for their potential to ultimately feel soothed, inspired and more.

The chapter’s continued success 
is also due in large part to people outside 
of the chapter’s team

Without a dedicated team, there would be no CreativeMornings chapter—anywhere. To the Chicago chapter, I offered thanks to its volunteers. The hosts and partners get the majority of the spotlight, but there are adjacent people who play a part and command it at each event, parts such as photographers, videographers, guides, producers, communicators, moderators, the list of players goes on. These volunteers deserve regular recognition beyond a chapter’s gatherings.

Thanks must be also stretched to people who socialize it through media platforms, particularly those who socialize it through writing. CreativeMornings is a universe for connecting thoughts, whether they’re light as notions or heavy as convictions. It’s an environment optimized for writing.

My chief motivation for appreciating CreativeMornings is the excitement (rather than the embarrassment) of riches, presented via speakers generously sharing the enthusiasm of doing what they do, chance chats and observations—the total experience preceding, during and after the event ends. Expert user researcher Steve Portigal’s practice of “noticing power” is enabled at each CreativeMornings event. All ingredients for writing, all inputs to write. And writing one’s heart out about CreativeMornings matches the quality of the teams’—completely voluntary. If you write about CreativeMornings in your city, let me know. Thankful to be called “a roving reporter on CreativeMornings.” Explore my write-ups ← 65+ and growing.

Faced with the constant change of climate—politically, socially, physically, CreativeMornings is a coping mechanism, whether it’s in-person or remote, with the benefit of long-range empowerment.

• • •

From the blogging archives:

Rainbow Connection at The First CreativeMornings Summit (2014)

Wisdom at CreativeMornings: Kalman, Lois, Glaser (2014)

I like CreativeMornings—a lot (2014)

Delightful Details of the CreativeMornings.com Redesign (2013)

Design Conference Reworked and Reloaded: CreativeMornings (2011)


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April 12, 2017

Argent’s Sali Christeson and Eleanor Turner Make Functional Work Clothes with Attitude


At first look, I was drawn to the design of Argent’s clothes—practical and chic. Founders Sali Christeson and Eleanor Turner talk style and starting up a business focused on making, embracing and advocating better workwear for working women.

How did you arrive at making clothes? Who/what/where 
was the epiphany toward this creative commitment?

Sali: As a woman working in finance and tech for years, I was both frustrated and bemused by the lack of options. Getting dressed for work every day was an absolute cluster, because of the massive gap in availability of work attire that crosses the divide between office appropriate and personal style. After years of thinking about the problem, I left the tech industry to find a solution. The ultimate catalyst for leaving was the fact that women are judged based on what they wear, and no one has defined what’s appropriate across different industries—in my mind, this had to be addressed immediately.

Eleanor: When Sali approached me with this idea, I was not interested, as workwear has traditionally been boring and vanilla. Once I saw the options available (or not available) to working women, I realized that I had the perfect experience to redefine work apparel through not only our products, but through branding as well.





When and how did you arrive at the idea of Argent? And how 
did you keep this idea? Did you write it down? Doodle it?

Sali: During my first job in banking, I was shocked by how difficult it was to find work appropriate attire that I actually liked. As my career progressed, it was something that I was always paying attention to. I intentionally chose my career path knowing that there was a very real potential for me to want to pursue this opportunity. In many ways, my “lightbulb moment” was more of a “it’s now or never” moment. Honestly, I left Cisco with little more than a gray idea. I was incredibly fortunate to have found Eleanor early on in the process, as she had spent years working for brands like like J.Crew, Tory Burch and Tommy Hilfiger. The idea, in a macro sense, has been consistent, but the execution continues to be an iterative process.

Eleanor: There was a real life light bulb moment when I decided that function should be at the heart of our design process. When we first started talking, Sali continued to highlight some of the key challenges she and her peers were facing. I still remember the breakthrough moment when I decided we should incorporate function. I concepted a few ideas that have really become staples of our designs, such as media pockets, sweat wicking panels and elastic bands hidden in cuffs. There was a very obvious need for functional clothing that did not compromise aesthetic, which is what we are offering with Argent.





Semantics: Is there a difference between “fashion” and “style”? What adjectives accurately portray Argent’s workwear? Upon discovery, quickly thought: Dapper, coinciding with #FuckYeah.

Eleanor: Yes. Fashion is the brand. Style is the person. Argent is both. Adjectives that come to mind: bold, confident, irreverent, appropriate, provocative, unapologetic.

What were some of the first things you did in transforming 
Argent from an idea to a reality?

Sali: I put in my notice at Cisco and started socializing my vision with my peers. As with anything, once you tell enough people, you feel obligated to make it happen. They all looked at me like I was crazy, because I wasn’t able to articulate it well. After leaving, I spent the first couple of months meeting with various folks and really solidify the vision in a macro sense. I also worked through a business plan template to ensure I knew what to prioritize. Convincing Eleanor to join full-time was high on my list. The other thing that I’m glad I did early on was to engage a few advisors that are still very involved with the company.

Eleanor: When I first began working on Argent, I knew I didn’t want to design another basic line of clothing. I wanted to do something different, so I started talking to working women and Sali about what they did during their days. What I inferred from the information was, I want style, but I’m busy. I saw the opportunity to solve problems with clothing without sacrificing style. After that, I did tons of research and transformed the idea into a brand.

How did you find each other toward becoming Co-Founders 
of Argent? What makes you an excellent team?

Sali: Eleanor and I are polar opposites (we even took a personality test that proved this), but I think this makes us the perfect team. Also, the combination of our backgrounds—the fact that I come from the tech world and she comes from the fashion world—definitely informs the brand in really unique ways. We are essentially our own target audience.

How do you manage the coast-to-coast collaboration?

Eleanor: Sali is a morning person and I am a night owl, so that definitely helps. We also over-communicate, which is extremely important when working on different sides of the country.

How did you make yourselves decide to start Argent?
Because “Just do it” is easier said than done.

Sali: I think once I left my job, I didn’t really have a choice. I had already committed. And the fact that there is a larger mission to what we are building is definitely a driving force and constant motivator.

Eleanor: Completely agree with Sali, once we realized the massive opportunity, there was just no looking back.

Process, process, process: What’s your common workflow 
(to-dos, must-dos, et al.) in making “smarter workwear”?

Eleanor: We are both simultaneously organized and unorganized in an effort to move things forward. That said, there is always a larger goal driving our priorities and execution. We both juggle to-do lists, ideas and emails to the best of our ability. When it comes to the clothes, there is definitely a core process that I have learned from my years in design that I have adjusted to work within our shorter timeframe. The most basic workflow is design, develop and produce, with a constant goal of letting the passion manifest itself throughout.

Liking this composition. ← Where is this from?
Reminded of Matisse’s collages.

Eleanor: This is our color palette for our launch collection—Spring 2016. Color is a huge area of passion for me. I fell in love with this photo and the composition of color. It became the initial inspiration for the palette, and I iterated from there.



Who and/or what are your consistent design and/or 
business-related influences?

Sali: Too many to name. That said, my level of appreciation for the entrepreneurs of the group has increased significantly—Brian Chesky, Howard Schultz, Richard Branson, Elon Musk—given the numerous challenges associated with converting an idea into a viable business.

Eleanor: I have many, but I’m a huge fan of Tommy Hilfiger, not only because I used to work for him, and he is one of our most active advisors, but he has remained relevant throughout the years and has reinvented his brand on many different levels. I also love what Ty Haney and Emily Weiss are doing with their brands, Outdoor Voices and Glossier, respectively. In terms of ready-to-wear fashion, I’m loving the rebranding some of the old houses are going through and the new marketing angles they are employing. Gucci, Kenzo, Balenciaga, with Demna Gvasalia, have all been super exciting to watch!

In running Argent, what are some true “best practices” 
in working well, in working as best as possible?

Sali: Communication is key. Standing meetings are definitely best practice (team meetings and 1:1s). And transparency. Time constraints make both incredibly challenging. In terms of being at your personal best, I am a huge proponent of stepping away from work to clear your head. For me, exercise is a necessary outlet. Without it, my work product suffers. In my experience, if you don’t create those escapes, work consumes you.

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?

Sali: Honestly, we are a married couple at this stage of our relationship. A huge part of getting past disagreements is taking time as required and maintaining open communication. Generally, time leads us to an outcome that we both think is right.



Who and/or what keeps you going in keeping Argent going?

Sali: Our mission is definitely what keeps me motivated. It’s really exciting to build a brand that is changing the conversation, that is empowering women to be unapologetic and bold.

Eleanor: It is amazing to see customers who have been transformed through the clothes. I am energized by the opportunity to influence women’s confidence by solving challenges through work apparel.

How do you get the word out about Argent, build awareness 
and attract customers?

Eleanor: Our customers are at the heart of our creative process and brand identity, so early on we were able to get the word out by spending a lot of 1:1 time with some really influential women working across industries. This was luckily a great first step in getting the word out.

Sali: Additionally, pop-up shops are central to our business model. We are meeting women where they are, popping up in offices and co-working spaces. This allows our audience to discover and interact with the brand.

How did you arrive at the name for your business?

Argent is a word that we dug out of Sali’s family history. Ironically, it means silver which ties directly to working women and pay parity. It’s also short, easy to pronounce, and at the top of the alphabet.

What effect do you strive to achieve with Argent?

Sali: We want to empower ambitious women to drop-kick the glass ceiling.

Eleanor: We want to change the game for women by giving them the clothes they need to succeed and a brand they can depend on for support.

• • •

All images courtesy of Argent.

• • •

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April 1, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Hands-On Creativity by Pam Daniels and Brandon Williams of Welcome Industries



What are you working on—on the side?

Our side project is making more makers and designers—We teach! We love unlocking people’s potential to imagine and create. We have a unique role as designers in residence at Northwestern University, where we built a working studio on campus to make the messy, playful design process more visible to students. In addition to leading our design practice Welcome Industries, we each teach a range of courses in human-centered design. The course we teach together is called “Design Thinking and Doing.” It gets students comfortable with hands-on, low-fidelity building and engaging with people to understand their needs. We’ve also led workshops at Archeworks and hosted design jams for Chicago Ideas Week inviting the public at large to participate in the design process. We expect to offer a course this summer at mHUB as well to teach prototyping skills to entrepreneurs, and the past two summers have taken us to China to help lead a two-week design intensive program called “Jiang China.” What’s so great about teaching design is that we get to learn alongside our students. The answers aren’t something we have—they’re something we create and discover together. Our job as educators is mostly to create the climate and context in which people can do this.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

It helps to have wide-eyed students expecting you to show up every week. We discovered teaching by mistake. We formed our design practice Welcome Industries right after finishing grad school, and were invited to lead a three-week design course for high schoolers from around the world on Northwestern University’s campus over the summer. We said yes, and have kept saying yes ever since.

Why have a side project

As designers, we feel our ability to play, learn and create are what fuel us. We love cultivating this in others. Our side project at this point eclipses our design practice, but that’s OK. We love what we do and can’t help, but believe that a better future can be achieved by giving people a chance to imagine and build together.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Pam Daniels and Brandon Williams.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
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March 30, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Poet Hannah Stephenson’s Paging Columbus for the Literary Community



What are you working on—on the side?

Paging Columbus is a project I’ve been working on since 2011. It has evolved since then, but I describe it as a literary event series with a local focus. We hold themed events (mostly readings) every other month, at OSU Urban Arts Space, which is a lovely, large gallery in downtown Columbus, Ohio. At each event, 3–5 writers (mostly those from central Ohio, although we sometimes feature visiting writers and artists) share some poetry or prose that somehow relates to our theme. Some recent examples of themes include “Sanctuary/Refuge/Home,” “Dressing Room,” and “Study Hall.” Although I began it as a solo venture, I’ve been lucky to collaborate with our current co-curators Joy Sullivan and Paige Quiñones (and former co-curator David Winter). I see Paging Columbus not just as a site of events, but as a bridge-building space—we feature and support the diverse and talented writers in our town, as well as foster connections between writers, readers, artists, creatives, and those looking to find inspiration or artistic community.

I started the series in 2011, when my husband and I had moved back to my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, after living on the West coast (in Vancouver, BC, and Los Angeles). After returning to Ohio to be closer to family and friends here, I was looking for the literary community and and connections that I had come to cherish in those cities.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

Finding the time and energy to work on Paging Columbus feels both very deliberate and very organic. My planning and programming always comes in fits and starts. Initially, we held events every single month. I held the first event as a way to read poems with some friends who were still in town, and then the Urban Arts Space asked if we wanted to make it a monthly series. It was amazing and easy and swift that first year! The more I held readings, the more writers I became acquainted with and pointed toward. There is no shortage of seriously talented writers here in Columbus, as well as around the state.

However—whew. It was rather hectic to plan events at this pace, and to do it alone. I was also teaching as an adjunct instructor at various universities at that time, in addition to freelancing (as so many of us writers tend to do!). When I was pregnant with my son in 2015, I knew I’d need help, and was supremely grateful to Joy and David, and later Paige, for coming on board to help with our programming. We also moved to an every-other-month schedule…this works MUCH better for all involved. And because there is a always plethora of terrific readings happening in town, I like it better when Paging Columbus doesn’t oversaturate its audience and community.

How do I continue to work on it now? It’s an enormous source of delight and comfort to me. I work one or two events ahead, first solidifying date, readers, and then theme. It’s all very casual…I often am planning it on my phone while my son sleeps on me! As a mom to a toddler, I (somewhat selfishly) crave the company and work of other writers. I adore attending arts events, but am not able to get to as many of them as I used to. So this is a significant outlet for me.

In terms of planning, the helpful thing about an event series is that many of the logistics are already in place (date, times, location). Then, we can simply create on top of the template, pushing or tweaking as we go (for example, we have sometimes held our events in a new spot, or changed the format, etc.). There will always be more events to hold and plan…it gives us so much potential to grow and adapt to our own desires and the ever-changing context of our city and times.

Why have a side project?

As a poet and artist, I truly believe it is my duty to advocate for other poets and artists. And I have always been a person with many simultaneous gigs/projects. Interestingly, none of these feel exactly like “side projects” to me, more like tentacles or wagon wheel spokes that connect to my writerly/weirdo body and brain. My work as a poet is firmly tethered to my literary event organizing work with Paging Columbus, as is my teaching work, my collaborations with artists, and my editing/publishing projects. So when one limb benefits, so does the entire system…if I meet a wonderful writer here in town and feature them at Paging Columbus, maybe I’ll learn about a festival where they are performing, and I’ll attend that festival, and hear a new writer that inspires a new direction in my personal writing. Side projects help me to grow, to seek and nourish relationships, and to remain an active and inclusive literary citizen.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Hannah Stephenson.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
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March 24, 2017

Audience Takes the Stage at the 60th monthly CreativeMornings in Chicago


Photograph by Chris Gallevo, Volunteer

In the final CreativeMornings/Chicago meeting of 2016, three creative folks spoke for the third “Audience Takes the Stage” gathering. Started by former chapter organizers Knoed Creative, applicants vie for the opportunity to speak about what they’re enthusiastic about in this annual event. It’s proven to be a great way to wrap the year with a trifecta of creative voices.

This third go-around felt like a movie with a bold start, a fulfilling middle, but a confusing ending.



Anna Brenner on human-made monsters,
from literature to life

Web designer and front-end web developer Anna Brenner spoke first. Her topic was “man-made monsters” found in literature, TV and movies. She studied this cultural phenomenon as an English Literature major—with an informal concentration in body studies—at George Washington University. Inspired by her string of highlights shared during her talk, from the TV series “Westworld” to the movie franchise “Jurassic Park” to the novel “Frankenstein,” I mentally reciprocated with Guillermo del Toro’s co-created TV series “The Strain,” the Kurosawa-directed movie “Ikiru” and Saramago’s novel “Blindness.” Assumed that she’s into Legendary Entertainment’s “MonsterVerse” with the second installment “Kong: Skull Island” in theaters now. These stories have the surface pattern of monstrous characters, but what Brenner amplifies is the symbolism of monsters, the relationship between freedom and fragility. In the worlds of art, literature and cinema, monsters are human constructs to construct meaning—that major innate desire.

Recall this meaningful exchange between a young Bruce Wayne and his father in the movie “Batman Begins” (2005). While recovering from having dropped into a well, infested with bats, Bruce experiences flashbacks:
Thomas Wayne: “The bats again?” 
[Bruce nods] 
Thomas Wayne: “You know why they attacked you, don’t you? They were afraid of you.” 
Bruce Wayne: “Afraid of me?” 
Thomas Wayne: “All creatures feel fear.” 
Bruce Wayne: “Even the scary ones?” 
Thomas Wayne: “Especially the scary ones.”
Motivated by her literary background, Brenner serves “man-made monsters” as another viable source of meditation for makers to examine themselves and their work, the vulnerability seething throughout, coalescing into the aggressively persistent monster of F.U.D.: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. This a monster that consumes and cannot be exorcised. But Brenner, through the monster-lens, gives a coping mechanism to counter its effects: empathy. This is a quality evangelized a lot by creative people, especially designers, to the point of tone-deaf. Yet it was refreshing to hear Brenner not insulting the human race, asserting that human beings are inherently stable, even good. And can act with goodwill by default, albeit with the spectre of primordial monsters always on standby. As the prolific novelist, John Updike, said, “We are cruel enough without meaning to be.”



Chakka Reeves on engaging low-income communities to mentor the next generation of creativity

The second speaker was Chakka Reeves, a videographer and digital storyteller, who spoke about mentorship, especially to benefit youth in communities that sorely need it. Through the lens of social justice, she calls herself “a youth empowerer.” She rallied the audience to consider mentoring, an activity that scales. As a proactive educator in programs such as After School Matters, her work joins the noble efforts by other like-minded individuals who are ambitiously mindful of mentoring beyond themselves:
  • At last year’s Cusp Conference, Julius Givens spoke about why he founded The Explorer Program, “a platform that provides high school students—particularly first-years from urban minority communities—the opportunity to explore, be inspired and transform their lives by bringing to life their creative and artistic abilities.” Read my write-up.
  • Also presenting at last year’s Cusp Conference was Sandee Kastrul, president and co-founder of i.c.stars, “an innovative nonprofit leadership and technology training program founded in 1999 to prepare inner-city adults for technology careers and community leadership.” Read my interview with her as part of my series on Makers.
  • At the Cusp Conference in 2015, graphic designer Maurice Woods talked about his creation the Inneract Project, “a professionally-supported program that provides free design classes and initiatives to inner-city youth, in order to introduce them to the field of design and channel their creativity into viable career paths.” Read my write-up.
  • CreativeMornings/Chicago attendee Jason Early, a proactive mentor currently at global learning space General Assembly, shared his thoughts on mentorship in this interview, also as part of my series celebrating Makers.
The novelist Ralph Ellison elegantly declared, “Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values.” Reeves is generously advancing the ancestral line of human generations whose religion is compassion.



Emily Belden’s wax on, wax off

From the literary imagination of Brenner applied to the creative process, to the mentoring by Reeves of the disenfranchised and marginalized in her city of Chicago, the third speaker was Emily Belden, the memoirist behind “Eightysixed” (2014), a book about “Unforgettable Men, Mistakes and Meals.” She’s also a media powerbroker, impressively writing, publishing and achieving a two-book contract with publisher Harlequin.

After a stimulating first act, followed by a bold second act, the talk by Belden felt like a confusing way to end the third “Audience Takes the Stage” event. She prefaced her talk by claiming that hers would be “wild in comparison” by sharing her “haunting story” of waxing her eyebrows for the first time. It was an impromptu decision during preparations for a holiday party. When asked if she did anything to her face, Belden was in denial. This experience was pivotal, shaped her attitude to bravely “own up” to her actions moving forward, whatever they are (like ripping off those delicate hairs above the eyes). In so doing, she urged the audience to openly practice “super authenticity,” though nurturing and maintaining a baseline level of being “authentic” is challenging enough. Back to Belden’s claim of giving a “wild” talk. Was it? Sure. Just not my kind of wildness—substantially embodied and expressed more authentically by the previous two speakers.

• • •

This was the last gathering organized by Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, who took over management of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings in 2013. They improved greatly the chapter’s operations and frequency of talks that, for the first time, were held consistently on a monthly basis. Another major change was the regular showing of women speakers, further demonstrated in this third event where the “Audience Takes the Stage.” Read my writes-up on the second “Audience Takes the Stage” and its debut in 2014.

• • •

Big thanks: to Braintree (who also hosted), Nestlé Toll HouseGreen SheepLyft Chicago, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #60; to new organizer Jen Marquez who accepted the chapter’s hosting responsibilities from Knoed Creative who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to have CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008.

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Read more CreativeMornings coverage.


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