LA Design Festival | Erika Abrams

Exploring Design for the People with the Festival's Creative Director

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Sofia Ziman

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Images Courtesy LADF

Los Angeles is known for its palm trees and beaches, sunshine and sprawl, overlapping, ever-evolving aesthetics in the spirit of reinvention. LA’s vibrant creative design community has made its mark on the city and increasingly so, on the global stage. Since 2011, the annual Los Angeles Design Festival has been helping to put Los Angeles on the map as a vibrant and innovative international hub for design. 

After a pandemic hiatus, the festival is welcoming visitors from June 22nd through June 25th. LADF 2023 will feature an exciting program of talks, exhibitions, tours, pop-ups, and discussions, all open to the public. Held across the Greater Los Angeles area, the festival will be popping up at the ROW DTLA, Helms Bakery District, and Downtown Long Beach. 

Under the vision of Executive Creative Director, Erika Abrams, this year’s return will mark the 10th edition of the festival. Shining a light on the problem-solving potential of design and wealth of diversity in LA’s design ecosystem, Abrams’ goal is to help foster the city’s creative community to inspire, connect and collaborate. 

FLAUNT spoke with Abrams ahead of the festival to discuss design in the City of Angels, LA’s creative community, and what's in store for LADF 2023.

How did you land on this year's theme of "Design for the People?" How does design and community overlap for you?

There are a few ideas and ideals that pushed the theme to the forefront. In all the work I do, it is important that people are at the center. My sweet spot is where creative, community and culture intersect. With the pandemic–people moving in, out of, and around Los Angeles–we are even more disconnected and seeking connection now that it is sunny-ish outside.

At its core, design is about problem-solving, and we have a lot of problems to solve. The hope is that the festival, both as an event and through ongoing engagement, will create a space for connection. We don’t seek to answer all the questions, but more so create a place of exploration and curiosity. 

How do you view your role as creative director? What are your goals for this year's festival?

My goal as the festival’s creative director is to provide a place of engagement and invitation, and a meaningful and fun experience, for all creative people in Los Angeles. This year, being the first year back since the pandemic shut everything down, is a lot like push-starting a train engine that has been sitting on the tracks for a bit. My goal is to light the fire, get it moving, pull the whistle and build momentum. I feel very much that my role is to be of service to the creative community.

How do you think about LA's place in the design world?

I think there has always been idle chatter about LA lacking culture, depth, a city center, etc., which can lead people to think we lack a creative perspective. I fully disagree. LA has a very relaxed culture, which can create the impression that we are indifferent, unaware, or don’t have a creative voice. We do, we just do it in jeans and with minimal drama. We are also an expansive horizontal city, whereas other global cities are vertical, compressed and much older…that also contributes to the feeling of disconnection and dilution of culture.

All in all, I think our strength is we intuitively understand perception, and with the span of the city we have the ability to create with more freedom than most. We are a city of interrelated communities that collectively become a wonderful quilt of connection with the rest of the design world. We are also a city that has wonderful weather and draws people together, from across the country and world, to come here and find a creative home.

That being said, we have a rich and deep creative pool that I think is widely overlooked in our Latinx/e communities. Los Angeles is also a regional center, not to take away from any other cities along the coast, but Los Angeles has a deep relationship with Mexico from both sides of the border. Our proximity to Asia and the AAPI creative communities can sometimes be taken for granted and seen in a very monolithic way. And there’s really not much engagement or recognition of Black creative culture.

I think our separate togetherness gives us a unique perspective and ability to incubate and vocalize our creative efforts. I think we all yearn for acceptance and belonging. Design is solution-oriented by nature, and we are unique in our relationship with each other and the world in a way I feel is deeply meaningful. Design makes problem-solving beautiful, and we should all be a part of creating beautiful solutions.

What excites you about LA's current design ecosystem?

LA holds footprints of both enterprise-level and boutique creative organizations in all disciplines of design. There is a greater awareness about design, not only as an industry but also as a language. It is in our shared vernacular.

The creative industry in LA was founded with film and television, whereas media came later in the creative timeline for other destinations in the design world. I think our heritage in media gives us an advantage in managing the branding and inclusion of design in other industries. It’s woven into the fabric of who we are as a city.

Culturally we are naturally very creative. We are curious. We are welcoming. We seek connection. We are a coastal city. We are a city that until recently nobody was ‘from.’ We are becoming more grounded while continuing to have a hold of our free-spirited, explorative natures.

LADF takes place across greater Los Angeles - how do you feel the different locations embody LA and interact with the works on display?

Because LA is so spread out, it does allow for distinct creative bubbles to exist. Our weakness is our strength. The role of the festival, from my perspective, is to invite everyone and create a sense of belonging, acceptance, and curiosity.

The different locations recognize there are places people will not travel to or beyond. In relation to design, there is perception that ‘capital D’ design resides west of La Brea and ‘lowercase d’ lives east. In reality, both are capital D, but because we don’t go beyond the invisible boundaries, it can be difficult to recognize. The festival is attempting to pull people across borders.  

Helms Bakery District is opening the festival with a discussion about the Latinx/e design and education experience, as well as partnering with A+D Museum for the opening of the Sekou Cooke curated show, ‘Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture’ during the festival.

In the newly minted Downtown Long Beach Design District, there is an international poster show with submissions from over 33 countries, including Iran, Venezuela and China inspired by the theme, ‘Design for the People.’

ROW DTLA is hosting talks and installations that include Louise Sandhaus’ co-directed People’s Design Archive panel discussion and Add-A-Thon. Ava Duvernay’s non-profit arm, Array, via their LEAP initiative, will present two works as a part of the Black Light exhibit. Lachlan Turczan, recently back from showing at Milan Design Week, is presenting ‘Sympathetic Resonance,’ along with exhibitions by Jimmy Marble, Studio Left, Silas Munro, and a group chair exhibit ‘Natural Forms,' among others.

Being from Los Angeles, I’ve heard from people who have come to LA that connecting with people is difficult. The festival hopes to be a place where the creative community can connect, not only during the festival but throughout the year.

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LADF, Los Angeles Design Festival, Erika Abrams, The Row DTLA, Helms Bakery District