Questions of Practice: Cohabitation Strategies and Anthony Smyrski on Design in Contemporary Culture

What is the role of design in contemporary culture? In the video that follows, we speak to cultural activist Miguel Robles-Durán of Cohabitation Strategies (CohStra) and Pew Fellow, artist, and graphic designer Anthony Smyrski about how new understandings of design can better engage the communities it serves.

Cohabitation Strategies and Anthony Smyrski on design in contemporary culture. Interview with Cohabitation Strategies filmed at the Institute of Contemporary Art on September 8, 2015. Interview with Anthony Smyrski filmed at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage on March 18, 2015.

Robles-Durán cites one of CohStra’s core principles: “to not engage with the common practices of design,” typically used to produce material structures or products. Instead, CohStra focuses on the design of processes that “develop dialectically over time,” he says.

Smyrski invokes the Dutch philosophy of “total design”—the concept that all parts of a project or an urban environment are interrelated. He believes that designers can give the voices of varying contributors a form, producing a meaningful whole for audiences to interact with.

Cohabitation Strategies (CohStra) is a non-profit cooperative for socio-spatial research, design, and development based in New York City, Rotterdam, and Ibiza. They brought their approach to Philadelphia with the Center-funded Playgrounds for Useful Knowledge, working in South Philadelphia with Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Founded in 2008 by Lucia Babina, Emiliano Gandolfi, Gabriela Rendón, and Miguel Robles-Durán, CohStra has initiated community-engaged projects and operation centers in various cities across Europe, South and North America.

Pew Fellow Anthony Smyrski is one member of the artist duo Megawords and is the founder of the design firm Random Embassy. As Megawords, Smyrski and his collaborator Dan Murphy are known throughout Philadelphia for installations that are equal parts gathering space, artist studio, and storefront. While their practice has a global reach, as they collaborate with artists internationally, it is deeply rooted in Philadelphia.

Spanish artists Patricia Gómez and María Jesús González utilized a traditional mural restoration technique while in residence at the Holmesburg Prison in Northeast Philadelphia.

Grants & Grantees

Glenn Holsten is a filmmaker and a 1997 Pew Fellow.

Curatorial planning informed a series of exhibitions presented during the 2010 National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts Conference.

Questions of Practice

Visual artist Brent Wahl works primarily in photography and time-based mediums, transforming everyday materials and detritus into mesmerizing compositions.

The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia opened to the public in 1954 and is located in the former home of brothers Philip and Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, international dealers in rare books, manuscripts, and fine and decorative arts.

As part of its exhibition Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form, the James A. Michener Art Museum presents a series of films from the 1920s.

Ars Nova Workshop undertook planning for an exhibition that explores the relationship between Han Bennink and Peter Brötzmann, two important figures in European improvised music.

Grants & Grantees

Joseph Cashore is a puppeteer and a 1996 Pew Fellow.

Graphic artist Marian Bantjes talks about how embellished text can provoke engagement with the reader.

The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy manages the largest and oldest public art program in the country, while The Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia seeks to improve quality of life for all Philadelphians by facilitating collaborations between the city’s public, private, and non-profit sectors.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Through more than 100 published works and many recordings, Bernard Rands is well-established as a major figure in contemporary music.

Grants & Grantees

First Person Arts offers bi-monthly story slams, classes, and an annual festival dedicated to transforming real life into documentary art.