Can a Design Museum Change the World?
By Laura Flusche, Ph.D., Executive Director, MODA
At the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA), we define design as a process that inspires change, transforms lives, and makes the world a better place. This idea guides everything we do — from exhibitions to programs to summer camps — because we believe that design is one of the most important tools we have for facing difficult 21st-century challenges like climate change, social justice, fair representation in voting, and food equity.
In setting a course for the museum, the MODA Board of Directors and staff focus on big ideas that are encapsulated by a number of research questions, one of which is, “What if a museum looked forward instead of backward.” The work of most museums is to preserve the past and to show us who we once were and how we have crafted, shaped, and expressed human experience. But there’s nothing to say that a museum must look backwards, so at MODA, we have chosen to break with tradition. We are a museum that looks forward. Our future-facing orientation is informed by the designers whose work we exhibit and by the design processes we teach. Think of it this way: designers envision the future. Whether graphic designers, architects, urban designers, fashion designers, or designers of complex systems, the job of the designer is to see and make the future.
At MODA, we also ask another question: “Can a design museum change the world?” Can a design museum provide experiences that cause us to think differently, to see differently, to approach problems differently, even to live differently? And, if so, can MODA can be a catalyst for designing a future in which we want to live?
That’s why MODA’s exhibitions and programs discuss contemporary challenges and the work designers are doing to address those needs. In past years, we’ve shown how craftivists (crafters + activists) like Jayna Zweiman are designing ways to welcome immigrants and refugees to the United States, how graphic designers working with Amplifier.org are expanding the efforts of youth activists fighting for LGBTQIA+ and disability rights activists, and how Mass Design Group created a sacred space for truth telling and reflection about racial terror in their design for the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL.
Before the COVID-19 health crisis, MODA committed to making 2020 the Year of Climate + Change, a year in which our exhibitions and programs would demonstrate the power of design to reverse climate change and address its already-present effects. Because of our prolonged closure, our efforts have been a bit delayed and will now stretch across several years. For now, we invite you to visit our virtual exhibition, Learning from Nature: The Future of Design, hosted on our website. It discusses ways that designers can learn from nature’s time-tested sustainability strategies. This fall, we’ll present a wide array of virtual programming about regenerative design and designers who are committed to the idea that the objects, buildings, and systems they create can make a positive impact in the world. Please join us in the conversation.
MODA’s Year of Climate & Change is backed by forward-thinking community partners like The Kendeda Fund, Econyl by Aquafil, Sto Corp., Structor Group, The Jamestown Foundation, Ponce City Market, Portman Architects, Interface, Perkins & Will, the Fulton County Arts Council, the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, Hendrick, Creature Product Development, Marble Fairbanks, Serenbe, Switch Modern, 3D Printing Tech, and a wide range individual supporters.