Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Dott Festival | Day 1

The Dott Festival opened today with an attendance of over 3000 people flocking to the big white and red tent along the Tyne Riverside in Baltic Square.

The Dott Festival is a showcase of projects in the Dott programme that have been going on in the past 18 months. The projects have formed around the themes of:

- Education
- Energy
- Food
- Health
- Tourism
- Movement (transport)

And all the projects have involved local people designing solutions to local problems.

I volunteered some of my time today to help out at the Festival. It gave me the opportunity to strike up conversations with designers, project stakeholders and people on their thoughts on Dott 07. It was a great day of meeting, greeting and seeing engaged and happy faces as they toured the issues that touch everyone in some way, shape or form.

I was in the Our New School project zone when I was approached by a team of students from Köln International School of Design, Germany, who were in town to blog, film, tape and photograph the Dott Festival experience. Jenny, Melissa, Ollie and Lisa were all Service Design students who study under Professor Birgit Mager, who was one of the first academics to write about Service Design.

As the evening fell on Baltic Square, it was time to prepare for the Dott Creative Community Awards night. Held in the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, the Awards night attracted a huge invitation-only crowd and was a fantastic celebration of the projects.

The night was opened by Dott’s Programme Director, John Thackara. Welcome words were delivered by representatives of the two funding partners of Dott 07, Mick Henry of One NorthEast and David Kester, Chief Executive of the Design Council. David set the tone for the night, gently reminding us that Dott 07 was about designers both professional and public.

The ECO Design Challenge was a competition that got Year 8 students in the UK designing environmental sustainability into their schools. By beginning with diagnosing their school’s carbon footprint, Year 8 students all over the UK were inspired to come up with creative solutions to try and reduce their school’s carbon emissions. Eighty-six schools entered their work into the competition and five were selected as the finalists (you can view the finalists’ work on display at the Dott Festival). These five schools were guests and presenters at the Dott Awards night. Three of them were to receive a £20,000 grant from theNational Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to realise their idea, with the other two runners up being awarded £5,000.

All the presentations on the Awards night were done Pecha Kucha style. This means that the presentations were 3 minutes, 6 slides and the presenter had 20 seconds to talk through each slide. The schools were first up to present. It’s daunting to think about being first and to speed through your project in 3 minutes in front of an adult crowd, but the Year 8 students made it look like a piece of cake. Not only that, but they were professional, worked as a team (each school had about 8 presenters) and clearly impressed us all. I felt a pang of jealousy at the ease of which the students could get up on that stage and do it!

Following the schools were the 10 Dott 07 projects. Each project leader presented stories of their Dott projects Pecha Kucha style. While it was a lot to take in at once, it was a marvellous way to get acquainted with the projects if one had not known much about them before.

After short break of water and chocolate ices, in our seats (well the night had to go on!), we had two wonderful keynote speeches from Ezio Manzini, Professor of Design at Politecnico di Milano, and Sunil Abraham, Director of mahiti.org, an NGO in India. Both of them commended the Dott 07 programme and inspired us to think a bit differently about how we should be going forward now.

The Awards were presented with the project, Urban Farming, sweeping the floor for the night. The Urban farming project’s work in Middlesbrough got the locals growing food in their gardens and allotments over the summer and celebrating the grown food at a huge Town Meal just last month. The participation and response has been phenomenal and Middlesbrough Council will be continuing the concept and event in 2008.

After a closing speech from Alan Clarke of One NorthEast, the audience and presenters retired for drinks and canapes at the Baltic’s Riverside Restaurant.

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