Last month, we did a round-up of organizations, events, and directories that center Black voices in design, architecture, and more. In addition to offering a resource list, we want to lend our platform to those making the design world a better place. In an effort to do that, we’re speaking with members and founders of the organizations we’re highlighting so that they can share the impressive work they’re doing with our readers.
We started out by speaking with Malene Barnett, founder of The Black Artists + Designers Guild (BADG), and Byron Cordero of Cordero Consulting (who works with BADG). BADG was founded in 2018 by Brooklyn-based artist Malene Barnett in an effort to counter the lack of representation of Black talent and culture in the design industry. Today, the organization is a global platform, representing a curated collective of independent Black artists, makers, and designers across various art and design disciplines. Learn more about the BADG here!
What first inspired you to get into art/design, and how does that still influence your work?
Malene Barnett: Asking a creative person how they started making art is complicated. For myself, I have been creating art ever since I was a child. Art really has no age, and I look at my artistic career as dynamic. When it comes to defining myself, artist is the general term I use because is it a broad definition for one who creates. I have always embraced this term. As a Black woman, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I connect to my heritage, my ancestry, my journey. I look at clay as a way to connect with my ancestors. I want to embody the processes my ancestors used to create vessels.
How can art and design help counter the systemic issues and racial inequalities that many communities are facing today?
Barnett: Since the beginning of my design career, I have been troubled by the lack of black representation in the industry. I should not have to open a magazine and say, “Oh, they featured another black designer.” There has always been a lack of diversity and black representation in this industry. We are constantly overlooked. Look at how many brands are collaborating with black designers and artists. How many black designers are recognized on top design lists? How many are asked to be an expert on a panel or at an industry event? How many have decision-making powers in major organizations or businesses? And the list goes on. These are facts. The ripple effect in our underrepresentation in the design industry is everywhere, and we are constantly reminded whether it’s through the media or who gets the design opportunities.
I decided to start BADG because I wanted to create a platform to champion black artists, makers and designers. Plus I wanted to create a safe space for the members to collaborate and just be. I knew that there needed to be a platform that would display the accomplishments of black creatives and provide media and potential clients a resource so there are no more excuses for how our work and voices are not represented in the industry.
What impact do you hope your work has?
Barnett: Ideally it would be great to live in a society that supports all businesses, but because black businesses have historically received less funding, less opportunity, less support, we’ve had to create our own resources to grow our businesses within our community. It’s even more important now more than ever to support black-owned businesses to balance out equality in this country. If you are seeking ways to begin supporting our community or working with us, the BADG provides direct access to our members who are independent Black artists, makers and designers.
Byron Cordero: At Cordero Consulting, we are the connectors between the brands, organizations, and/or creatives we work with and their audience. We serve as the message crafters and ultimately the voice to help those who have none or have not been heard. It has been our utmost pleasure to help the BADG not only get their voices heard but be a part of the process in implementing campaigns to help support black-owned businesses and make structural changes in the system to ensure a fair competitive ground for the BIPOC creatives of tomorrow.
Is there any particular direction you’d like to see the field go in?
Barnett: My goals for BADG are to expand membership, create more collaborative projects similar to our current collaboration BADG concept house and build on our education initiatives. I am optimistic about where the design world is going. I hope all structures that were designed to exclude Black talent and culture are re-evaluated eg AD List, ED List, Hall of Fame and many more. And, for each sector of the industry to come together to create a new mission towards decolonizing design. Once this commitment is implemented consistently in all sectors, the questions around how to support Black Designers and everyone else who contributes to design will eventually be concerns of the past.
What’s been one of your most rewarding experiences with the Black Artists + Designers Guild?
Cordero: Watching history unfold before my very eyes. Redirecting where we have failed as a society and being a part of the movement that I know we will all share and celebrate with one another as equals.
Any last thoughts?
Cordero: I wish people would approach these conversations with a course of action in mind to how we can work together towards ending systemic racism in the design industry and beyond. The only way to truly learn is to immerse yourself in uncomfortable situations; that’s where growth lives.
If you want a way to support The Black Artists + Designers Guild today, you can donate here to help fund the organization and its important work.
You can learn more about BADG’s concept house, OBSIDIAN, here.