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Architecture and Urban Planning

The arts add fresh perspective to social impact design discussion at “Size Up” event

Jamie Sherman Blinder

Fiddler on the Roof in Concert, featuring the orchestrations of John Williams. Promotional illustration courtesy: UMS

ANN ARBOR—Equal parts scholarly gathering and collaborative happening, “Size Up: Changing Paradigms in Social Impact Design” aims to spark hybrid, flexible and engaging conversations through a series of workshops led by Detroit-based artists and activists. The event, 3-9 p.m. Thursday, March 31, at the University of Michigan Art & Architecture Building, stands as a prototype for what the blended future of academic happenings could look like. The symposium makes it possible to engage locally while still tapping into global expertise, and creates multiple layers of equity and access by ensuring that scholarship is not siloed from the communities they seek to impact, organizers say.

Faculty from the U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning will be moderating panel discussions to invite reflection and input from design and public sector experts. The event is free and open to the public.

Germane to the mission of “Size Up” is its participatory framework which encourages attendees to question expertise; it asks students and faculty to learn from each other, equalizing the production and source of knowledge. Short workshops are held after each speaker’s presentation providing a platform to “hash out the ideas live” and collectively digest their hypothetical impact.

“It’s a way for us to first equalize the playing field between the international experts and our Detroit-based experts to make sense of what is considered in a scholarly manner and understand how it really impacts communities and how we work and live,” said Anya Sirota, associate dean for academic initiatives at Taubman. “We treat everyone equally in their expertise. I think that’s very important for us from a DEI framework.  Scholarship is not disengaged from local actors. We’re in it together.”

Social impact design bridges many disciplines, attracting those seeking to address humanitarian issues and to make a positive impact in the world. For this reason, the Taubman College has also made great efforts to actively infuse the arts and the value of building and supporting culture into the discussion. Bringing in musicians from Detroit, including My Detroit Players, DJ Los, and Emily Rogers, the 2022 Wallenberg Symposium emphasizes diversity, equity and inclusion, while helping to debunk the idea that entertainment arts and scholarship are separate, Sirota said. 

In the process, the event showcases work that equitably addresses social problems, especially in places where design is traditionally unavailable or inaccessible. 

“All of this is not about how DEI is aspirational. It’s actually living the concepts by introducing radical horizontality in terms of who produces new knowledge,” she said. 

“For me, this is a DEI framework lived and not projected. I think we’re going to work very hard to start living by this ethos and these concepts. Rather than planning for the future, I think we’re going to start now.”

Sirota and Jose Sanchez, a Detroit-based architect, game designer and theorist, are moderators for the event, which is also sponsored by U-M Public Design Corps.

Speakers: Global leaders in social impact design

The Collectif Etc. (Maxence Bohn) is a nonprofit organization based in France that collaborates with local communities to address the use of public spaces.

Chokwe Antar Lumumba is the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. 

Niklas Maak is the arts editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and an architecture theoretician working in Berlin.

Mitsuhiro Sakakibara is a Kyoto-based architectural and urban researcher. 

Tatjana Schneider is a professor for history and theory of architecture and the city at the Technical University Braunschweig, Germany. 


Facilitators: Detroit-based artists and activists

Sherrine Azab is the co-director of the Detroit-based theater ensemble A Host of People

Jake Hooker is a writer, director, projection designer, scholar and educator. He teaches in the U-M Department of Theatre.

Billy Mark is an interdisciplinary artist who lives and works in Detroit.

 Gina Reichert is an artist, architect and community developer who founded Power House Productions.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist and multimedia artist. 


Music: Live performance 

My Detroit Players features bassist Emily Rogers, a producer who works as a songwriter, musician, dancer, choreographer, event curator, musical director, host and DJ. Other members include: JRGotTheHiTS (drums), Shaphan Maestro Williams (keys),  Duminie Deporres (guitar), DJ Los (turntables), Zac Land (trombone) and Nick Speed (vocals and music production center).

The symposium continues the tradition of honoring the humanitarian work of Raoul Wallenberg, a Taubman College alumnus distinguished for his courageous actions in German-occupied Hungary during World War II. 

More information: Jacob Comerci

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