When the staff of the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum began brainstorming about a theme for its inaugural “ideas” festival, research fellow Shawn Cybor’s provocative suggestion of “complaints” was an immediate hit.
“Art and design have always given voice to dissatisfaction and grievance, and the state of dissatisfaction can lead to innovation and solutions,” said museum director Cathy Leff. “The complaints theme ... empowers community members to think about design but to also think beyond that — to their role in solving problems in the community.”
And, given the museum’s iconoclastic nature, “We also liked the idea that people might think we were organizing a gripe fest, when, in fact, it is a solutions fest.” Organizers hope the festival will be an annual event, each year with a different theme.
The result is a sometimes-quirky, four-day exploration of some less appealing facets of life in paradise, complete with a complaints choir, complaint posters by well-known artists, a student architectural charette, a conversation with humorist Andy Borowitz, festivals of short plays and films and a $25,000 grant competition for local not-for-profit organizations. Plus, there’s a complaints line, at 305-535-2633.
But this gab fest isn’t a frivolity. With experts on traffic, housing, technology, air travel and life in the digital age, the museum and its partners — WLRN Public Radio, London’s Intelligence Squared and the Miami Herald — hope to spur serious conversation about how to solve local problems. Partners are calling for solutions at the Twitter hashtag #solvethismiami, and the Wolfsonian will grant $25,000 to a not-for-profit entity through the Solve This Miami! grant competition administered by the Miami Herald.
The festival is supported by a $200,000 grant from The Knight Foundation.
“What we see is a voracious appetite for ideas and for sharing them,” said Matt Haggman, the foundation’s Miami program director, pointing to sellout attendance at ideas-driven events like TedXMiami and Startup City Miami.
Key to Knight’s Miami mission is creating support and community for entrepreneurs and makers of all kinds. “The design community is a big part of that,” said Haggman. The Wolfsonian’s concept of a smart, compelling festival around complaints and solutions fit the profile.
The Wolfsonian’s own collection includes many examples of designs created in response to problems; the collection begins with the late 19th century Arts and Crafts Movement, a reaction to the effects of industrialization. Other materials relate to political movements dissatisfied with the status quo of given moments in time. And because mass communication is a recurring theme in the Wolfsonian’s collection, WLRN and the Miami Herald were natural partners.
“As journalists, we see community watchdog reporting as an essential community service,” said Mindy Marques, the Miami Herald’s executive editor. “In essence, our job is to spotlight problems that would otherwise be ignored, so that the community can seek solutions.”
As part of the festival, a panel of investigative journalists from the Miami Herald and other local media outlets will share the back stories of their most impactful investigative projects. Community members will be encouraged to suggest ideas for future investigations.
That panel, convening on March 23, is one of the many events that are free and open to the public; most of those that are not will be streamed live at powerofdesign.wolfsonian.org, already home to a complaints-and-solutions blog. Registration is required for some public events.
On March 20, the museum will open its exhibition of posters created for the event, Complaints! An Inalienable Right, curated by Steven Heller, and the installation BUMMER, curated by designer Todd Oldham, both at the Wolfsonian. On March 22, computer scientist Jaron Lanier, technology writer Clive Thompson and Pulitzer-winning author Michael Chabon will debate the pros and cons of life in the digital age at the Perez Art Museum Miami. March 23, Oldham leads an interactive program for ages 6 to 12, using recyclables as the basis for art. Author, cultural historian and National Public Radio host Kurt Anderson will be emcee for the weekend.