The Walker Art Center was recently recognized for its expertise in the areas of Design and New Media with two prestigious honors. Underscoring the institution’s continued leadership and innovation, the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum announced that the Walker is the recipient of its 2009 National Design Award in the category of Corporate and Institutional Achievement. The Walker is the first nonprofit institution to be recognized in this category. It joins previous honorees such as Apple, Google, and Nike, and along with Target and Aveda is the third Twin Cities-based organization to win the award. At April’s Museums and the Web national conference, the Walker received a 2009 Best of the Web Award in the Innovative or Experimental Site category for its My Yard Our Message online political yard sign competition launched in conjunction with the 2008 U.S. presidential election.
Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
National Design Awards
The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s nationwide awards program celebrates excellence, innovation, and lasting achievement in American design and salutes those key individuals and firms who have played an essential role in shaping the way we experience our world. This year’s nominations were solicited from a committee of more than 2,500 designers, educators, journalists, cultural figures, and corporate leaders from every state in the nation. This year’s award recipients will be honored at a special ceremony in fall 2009 at which time Cooper-Hewitt will present the exhibition Design USA: Contemporary Innovation to showcase the work of the honorees from the first 10 years of the awards program.
For more than 70 years, design has played a vital role in the life of the Walker Art Center. Through hundreds of groundbreaking exhibitions, publications, and presentations by designers worldwide, the Walker presents the value of design to the general public. During the 1940s the Walker pioneered many new design initiatives that were firsts in the United States. In 1946 the Everyday Art Gallery opened as one of the first spaces for the dedicated study of modern design, and Everyday Art Quarterly was the first journal published by a museum dedicated to design. Innovative exhibitions and projects such as the Idea Houses of 1941 and 1947 showcased the latest developments in modern architecture and interior design for the general public, and were the first such exhibition houses constructed by a museum in the United States. In its earliest days, the Walker used design as a bridge for the public between the world of modern everyday objects and the unfamiliar world of modern art. In the postwar period the Walker presented design not simply as objects of modern form and function, but design as a process and methodology for solving complex problems. Design Quarterly showcased topics as diverse as Julia Child’s utilitarian kitchen design to Archigram’s visionary architecture and tackled issues such as urban renewal, product obsolescence, and mass transit. Design has been a holistic presence in the organization’s life not only as something exhibited but also as something practiced and taught.
Design and architecture have been the subject of literally hundreds of exhibitions—from Le Corbusier in 1944 and Frank Gehry in 1986 to Diller + Scofidio in 1991, LOT-EK in 2003, and new suburban landscapes in 2008. The Walker presents design’s past, present, and future: from the first major museum exhibitions about the history of graphic design in America and contemporary prefabricated houses to the ancient and contemporary culture of Tokyo and the future of America’s classrooms. Hundreds of designers have spoken at the Walker—from Charles and Ray Eames to Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, Massimo Vignelli to Ed Fella, Maya Lin to John Maeda.
The Walker’s in-house design studio—widely regarded as a leader in contemporary cultural branding—is the recipient of more than 100 awards and operates one of the longest running design fellowship programs in the U.S. It actively commissions cutting-edge designs to create new buildings, landscapes, fonts, and interactive technologies from leading and emerging designers. Its commitment to design is reflected in the importance it has been accorded within the institution since its inception in 1940: a central voice in strategic planning, an essential component of its multidisciplinary programming, and a vital force in shaping its identity. Under the leadership of Design Director and Curator Andrew Blauvelt since 1998, design at the Walker is a reflection of the institution’s mission to be a “creative catalyst” in the field of contemporary culture.
Museums and the Web Award for Innovation/Experimental Site
The user-created My Yard Our Message yard-sign project invited people to submit political yard sign designs around the theme of what it means to actively participate in a democracy. Following a month of public voting, the top 50 signs were made available for purchase and displayed in selected St. Paul and Minneapolis neighborhoods whose participation was organized by the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department. The project was part of a larger community initiative called the UnConvention, a nonpartisan collective of citizens and cultural institutions that provided a forum for promoting the democratic and free exchange of ideas during and after the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
The Museums and the Web’s panel of judges admired the My Yard Our Message project for “leveraging a local event with national implications” and deemed the best signs as submitted and selected by the community “good if not better than a corporate ad agency.” In addition, they said “the content worked during election season but also stands up beautifully now, post-election, both in terms of interest and also as a historical snapshot of the thinking of the time.” (myyardourmessage.com)
The work of the Walker’s New Media Initiatives department, under its director Robin Dowden, reflects the increasingly important role of technology in stimulating content created by and for Walker visitors. New media is consistently used to challenge and explore our collective understanding of what it means to operate in a networked environment. Applications of new technologies broaden the Walker’s audience, enable greater access to its programs and collections, and encourage community involvement.
My Yard Our Message, a project conceived by Scott Sayre, was produced by the Walker Art Center and mnartists.org in collaboration with The UnConvention.