Engage People – The Value of Design

Jason A. Silva

May 3, 2017

I believe an appreciation for design starts early in life. How much we are exposed to arts and culture as children affect how we value them in our future. Sharing wild possibilities can open a child’s mind today and keep it open when they are the innovators as adults.


Illumination of the installation at night.

On the banks of the South Fork American River, a weekend camping festival is held each year as a fundraiser for Tubman House, a community that provides 18 months of housing and support so that Sacramento’s homeless, parenting youth and their children can get busy living rather than surviving. The Art Beast Festival of Little Houses is a three-day event featuring arts and nature exploration for families. For the past five years, Ginger Thompson and I have created an interactive pavilion-of-sorts that is constructed and finished by the kids.

We usually start at the last minute (a week or two before the event) brainstorming about what we can do that works with materials that are easily accessible and inexpensive. Previous years have focused on corrugated cardboard, but this year a new material challenged us – cotton muslin. The concept would be as much about the final form as it was the process it took to get there – how can we fabricate this in a short time and assemble it with the help of children. We had a lot of leftover PVC piping from a previous year’s PiXL Pavilion, so with the addition of metal piping and a hundred yards of fabric, we were there.

Processing ideas in sketchbook.

To make the form porous and maximize the fabric area, we cut the fabric into strips of varying widths and wove it into a giant blanket that was 60 feet long and 20 feet wide. This was then draped over the structure and fastened in a few locations with zip-ties.


Setup of the installation.

Then we add color! For the years that we have used fabric, Dharma Trading Co. has provided the vibrant dyes and this year, the kids dripped, flicked and spattered paint all over the muslin, including each other. Some parents had the forethought to bring new white t-shirts so they can be a part of the art.

Each year, as I reflect back on the events, I realize something very important: it’s not about just creating something, but it’s about creating something that engages. Something truly has value when people are engaged with it.

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