Shauna Levy is changing the world, one design exhibition at a time. The President of Toronto’s Design Exchange and Co-Founder of the Interior Design Show, Levy is now embarking on her most ambitious project yet – the EDIT exhibition and festival. The ten-day event, taking place September 28th to October 8th in downtown TORONTO. will present real-world problems (and potential solutions) through innovative designs and a varied roster of inspirational speakers.

By Leora Heilbronn

Dress to Kill had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Shauna Levy as she opened up to us about Expo for Design, Innovation and Technology (EDIT), her past collaborations, and how we can contribute to the well-being of the world’s populace.

When you collaborated with Pharrell Williams on an exhibit a few years ago it drastically altered the work you presented at the Design Exchange from then on. Can you tell me a little bit about that experienceI had met Pharrell through a mutual friend and when we told him about the project, he got super excited. He did it pro-bono for us and when I asked him why, he said that this type of art form, which was designer toys and urban vinyl, was a very accessible art form, and the challenge with the contemporary art world is that most people feel that it’s not accessible. Most people stand outside the galleries in Chelsea and they’re afraid to go in. So, we worked with Takashi Murakami and KAZ, and it was a very playful kind of show. For me, it was also important because I had had a meeting with a city counsellor right around the time I started, and I was talking about Louboutin and all this really cool, sexy stuff that we were doing, and he said to me, “Well, what are you doing for the kids out here?” (his Ward is Scarborough East). And I thought, “That’s very interesting and a very good point.” I started to think about that and it became clear to me that as a public institution, that was our role.

Our role wasn’t just to talk to people who already know about design, but it was really talking to a broad demographic. So that became my mission from that point on – that everything I did, I wanted to make sure that no one would feel intimidated, that no one would feel: “oh this isn’t for me,” and no one would feel like this is luxury. No – this is very accessible and open to everyone. Working with Pharrell really opened up that idea for me. We were getting calls from young adults asking what the dress code was because they’d never been to a gallery before. That counsellor that I had had that conversation with, I invited him to the show too. The elevators opened on the third floor and his jaw visibly dropped because he basically saw his Ward here. It was clearly a group of people who were enjoying it and loving it, who hadn’t necessarily been to museums before, because of content that hadn’t spoken to them before. That was a great learning moment for us.

From that point forward you really created a legacy of social change. What are some of the accessible programs you began at that pointAt that juncture we started launching programs around the city: working with high priority neighborhoods, doing installations in different locations, and doing pop-up locations and really integrating what we do into various locales. And still we do all kinds of programs from different community groups during popular city events, everything from Pride to the Junction Festival. Whatever festival is going on in the city, we try to have a presence there and offer free programming to kids during those events.

How did you first get the idea for the EDIT ExpoGiven that my background is in events and trade shows, particularly in design, I obviously have an awareness of what the landscape was globally. As a cultural institution, we’re not in the trade show business, so we didn’t want to do a trade show. I thought it was a great opportunity to do something new and exciting, and given our mandate is to educate, I thought we needed to do that on a level that was accessible to all people. It’s meant to be immersive and inspire people to become part of this movement to make the world a better place.

Why did you choose design, innovation, and technology, in particular, to be the three pillars for the expo? When I started to look at design, in 2007, the first iPhone came out and I would argue that from that point on people started to use design in their everyday lexicon, more so than ever before. So it created this overall awareness for design, but it also made design to be about things and objects, and design is really much more than that. Design is design thinking, designing experiences, and it’s much greater than just products. And when I started to look around at design, innovation, and technology, when those three things come together, that’s really when some of the most exciting work comes out. And I thought, “Well that would be cool to do something with all those three things together. We could do cool gadgets and things.”

Then a United Nations video helped shape the festival into what it is now
? Exactly. One of my board directors sent me a one-line email that just said ‘globalgoals.org,’ and I clicked on it and it was a link to the video from the United Nations Development Program. If you have a minute you should check it out, because it’s very inspiring. It’s everyone from JLo, to Stephen Hawking, to Bill Gates talking about the importance of the goals. The goals were established in 2015 to eradicate climate change by 2030, and there are 17 other sizable goals that ladder up to that one big goal. It’s everything from protecting ocean life, to sustainable community, to gender parity. So, when I saw that video, I thought that it’s clear that we won’t achieve these things if we relied on corporations. We need to be engaged in working on our own local level to deal with these challenges. But even more than that, I thought that these are all design challenges. So, I contacted the UN and went to meet with them in New York to present them with this idea and to ask them to partner with us.

Not many people outside of the industry realize this, but design is integral to the fight against global warming and tackling poverty. In Canada, what are some of the challenges in particular that we face, that can be dealt with through design? Oh, I definitely think that design should have a seat at the table when it comes to these issues. I was recently at a conference in Amsterdam called ‘What Design Can Do,’ and it was all about the role of design in climate change. The letter that resulted was one to the government that said, “A designer should be hired and be located within the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.” So I think that when talking about these major issues, design definitely does have a role to play. In Canada, we talk about truth and reconciliation. When dealing with the challenges of First Nations communities, whether it’s housing, education, clean water – design has a role to play in all of those. So that to me was a huge moment, because I realized that now we have a platform to promote that design is more than just objects. Yes, beauty is important and I’ll always like my handbags and my shoes and my beautiful home, but I also think design has a greater opportunity today and we should be using it for that greater good.

What are some simple, everyday things the average person can do to make our planet better? On a basic level, as an example, we’ve stopped using plastic bottles in the office. That’s a big one because the number of plastic that’s found in the oceans right now is really scary. What’s interesting is that you try to go to the grocery store and not buy things in plastic and it’s impossible. Everything you buy, such as berries, are in plastic. The other thing that I would say is that there’s something to be said about buying less that is good, rather than buying more that is not so good. For example, people talk about fast fashion and the impact of fast fashion on the environment, and that’s certainly an issue. I think the statistic is that people throw out 80 pounds of clothes a year in North America, and that’s a lot! That’s an issue that definitely needs to be addressed. If you look at every aspect of your life, you’re bound to find at least one small thing that can make a huge difference.     

 

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