Plug the talent drain to boost your design scene

In 1999 Dawn Hancock founded Firebelly, a studio committed to socially responsible design. She coordinates the annual Grant for Good, and in 2002 launched the Firebelly Foundation and Firebelly University. She explains why it's more important than ever to nurture your local design scene...

I'm writing this on the eve of the opening of our sixth annual Typeforce show. By the time you're reading this, we will have celebrated the work of 25 up-and-coming artists and designers with well over 1,000 other people from around Chicago.

Typeforce was conceived by myself and my friend Ed Marszewski in 2009. As two type-lovers, Chicago-enthusiasts and overall community-uplifters, we came to the realisation over coffee that our city was losing some of its best talent to the coasts.

The reason was that collectively we were doing a poor job of celebrating those who were rising up through the ranks.

Creativity in crisis

As someone who is often on the hunt for great collaborators on my team, I hate seeing designers who came up through Chicago bailing for places like New York or LA because they feel they must move to be part of a bigger scene to score cool gigs.

I know many other countries suffer the same issue of talent drain from smaller cities – in the UK, talent from Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds are often drawn to London, for instance.

For my part, I have tried hard to support and strengthen my local design community over the years. I served on the Chicago chapter of AIGA's board as the Community Outreach Chair to connect with the 1,700-plus members.

Typeforce 6 was a roaring success

Typeforce 6 was a roaring success

The role allowed me to reach many more people than I could ever have done on my own and by doing so, I was able to find other areas that were not being met. While I was there, I started a mentorship program that brought people together from all career levels, in the hope of building long-term reciprocal relationships to further embed the design population.

Since starting these endeavours along with several others, I have witnessed a dramatic change. More and more community enrichment events and programs have popped up and I hear over and over about real friendships and collaborations that have been made outside of people's nine-to-five jobs.

Community spirit

At design lectures, I see many more people talking to one another instead of staring at their cell phones while slowly drinking their beer. And my inbox has seen a flood of outsiders. These are people wanting to work in our city, as well as be part of Typeforce or several of the other efforts we produce.

I really couldn't be happier with the success I've observed. The collective consciousness of Chicago has been raised, and I certainly look forward to the droves of people who will be moving in our direction in hopes of being part of our thriving city of neighbourhoods.

And just like the midwesterners we are, we'll gladly welcome them with open arms and take them out for a beer. So don't give up on your local creative community – give something back. The grass is only greener where you water it.

Words: Dawn Hancock
Illustration: Żaneta Antosik

Does your area suffer from a creative talent drain? Have you acted to boost your local design scene? Let us know in the Comments below...

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