“Theories and Practices of Community Engagement” + “Hearth”

As a student and a citizen, I am excited to delve into Kitchen Lab because I am passionate about finding ways that design can form community and activate positive change in our world. Innovative design can create new and healthy modes of community interaction and engagement, subverting traditional patterns, processes and structures that fail to bring us together.

The complicated realm of the kitchen is specifically loaded with potential for ways to us share our stories, our resources, our skills, our traditions, our successes and failures, our needs and desires, our gifts, our time and more.

We political, design-based social innovators who investigate concepts of community-engaged art ought to remember, then, that when we discuss these terms (especially with respect to food and the kitchen) we are talking about human beings relating to each other in intimate, complex ways. Back in February the Walker hosted a brainstorming session for Kitchen Lab, and participants wrote down their associations with the “kitchen” on a collection of sticky notes. Terms like hearth, home, satisfaction, fear, mystery, tradition and all sorts of isms came up.

Associations with the idea of "kitchen"

Much later, I was working on the course outline with the Kitchen Lab team and I started to wonder about our language in the project description. We wrote that we are “re-conceiving the ingredients, structure and function” of the kitchen, and the syllabus went on to present phrases like “theories and practices of community engagement,” “experience design,” “socially engaged art and design,” and “qualitative and design research methods for socially engaged art and design.” That all seemed very academic and heady (albeit super interesting) and somehow distant to some of the things we wrote down on our sticky notes way back when—words like “hearth“.

These theoretical terms and more visceral associations with the kitchen are not mutually exclusive, of course, simply different vocabularies. Reconciling them will be part of the coming challenge. I hope that the speakers we’ve invited to talk to the class will be able to address some of the more complex experiential/cultural/historical aspects of “the kitchen” within the context of our students’ design process.

I also look forward to discussing all the ismssexism, veganism, imperialism, etc.—and asking what it means to have a crew of academically trained, primarily young and probably well-intentioned white people tinkering with/redesigning something that has deep and deeply different meanings to a lot of different people.

Needless to say, I’m excited to put in my two cents and see what products, processes and experiences come out of the Kitchen Lab.


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