Celebrating LA’s “crazy, weird” design community

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Why does LA need a design festival? There are so many creative communities and different kinds of disciplines that happen here in L.A. and they tend to get siloed, according to festival director Haily Zaki. The festival concentrates everything into a small amount of time and space, centered on ROW DTLA in downtown L.A. The festival was founded eight years ago. In that time the city’s profile as a design capital has continued to grow and has gained the attention of design lovers from around the world.

It brings a lot of events that would be happening anyway under the same umbrella -- and then it takes on a life of its own and galvanizes more people and institutions to put on events, hold store parties, tours, etc. during the LADF calendar instead of at another time of year.

The result is this ecosystem of events that are all over the region, from Culver City to Vernon to Long Beach. And It's really about being inclusive and building a sense of community.

LADF started out as a proliferation of events coinciding with Dwell on Design. That’s a little like the New York Design Festival which wraps around the famous International Contemporary Furniture Fair, or the Milan Furniture Fair which centers on the Salone.

“It's really just all of the different institutions, all of these different private entities, all kind of doing their own thing and it's a little bit crazy and it's a little bit weird but I think that's in line with the character of a city,” Zaki said.

Zaki says her aim is for the LADF -- currently a nonprofit -- to become a viable economic venture, without becoming too corporate.

“I would not ever want to see the L.A. Design Festival become too commercialized. The point is to really maintain that L.A. character: decentralized, frenetic, kind of rogue, a little bit weird. That's us.”

It started as three consecutive weekends to create a larger window so that everybody would feel like they had more time to participate. And then once it started gaining a critical mass, it was distilled down to four days. Zaki says that’s because it's very hard to curate and organize something that long in such a huge city.

The main theme this year is “Design is for Everyone,” meaning that the character of the festival is all about inclusivity and accessibility, and Zaki says that's something that's intrinsic to design and the creative scene in L.A.

To that end the big event is a party that everyone is invited to Friday, June 8 from 6 to 9 p.m. at ROW DTLA. Everybody is opening up their stores and there’s a special installation by local architects as well as screenings.

However there is an event that sounds fun but is not for everyone because it’s a ticketed, limited event -- a dining experience called the Chromatic Dinner. It’s from Amsterdam and Zaki describes it as a five-course sit-down dinner that's organized by color.

Zaki called it “a multisensory experience... you close your eyes and in some cases you only use your nose to taste your food.”

There are also field trips, such as one to Vernon, an up-and-coming destination for creative factories, where there will be guided tours of factories operated by The Hundreds, Modernica and Hedley & Bennett.

There are also three days of conversations at ROW DTLA with some of the most influential design thinkers in L.A. and beyond.

Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer for “Black Panther” will receive the ICON Award on Thursday night. You can also see landscape architect Mia Lehrer discuss her work on the LA River. Christopher Hawthorne, LA’s new chief design officer will talk about Housing in LA with architects Barbara Bestor, Julie Eizenberg, and Jimenez Lai.

Grammy award winning, Los Angeles–based graphic designer and creative director Lawrence Azerrad will talk about his recent release of the Voyager Golden Record box set and his upcoming book “Aspiration by Design: The Concorde.”

And DnA’s Frances Anderton and Avishay Artsy will interview celebrated local sculptor and ceramicist Peter Shire about the arc of Shire's creative life, the renaissance of interest in his work among a younger generation, and the challenges and opportunities facing designers in LA today.

You can see DnA’s full list of recommended events here.

ROW DTLA, with the downtown LA skyline behind it. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Design Festival.