BIPOC Directors Collective: Amplifying and Strengthening the BIPOC Creative Community

Read Time: 3 minutes

During the summer of 2020, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, SEGD members Aki Carpenter (Ralph Appelbaum Associates, New York) and Inessah Selditz  (Ada, New York) formed BIPOC Directors Collective (BIPOC-DC), a group of directors and leaders of color to enact real change from the top down. Since then, the BIPOC-DC has hosted virtual talks and conferences to discuss issues and actions, as well as provide role models and mentorship for younger people of color who are rising-up within the creative industries.

Recent conferences sponsored by the BIPOC Directors Collective featured a series of virtual roundtable discussions, free of charge and live streamed on YouTube. Directors from five different creative industries were invited to attend. Their fields include:

  • Advertising / Marketing
  • Media / Publishing
  • Architecture
  • Museums
  • Theater / Film

Aki and Inessah formed BIPOC-DC to help enact change within these industries at the leadership level.

“These were the kind of creative industries that were essentially having ‘revolts’ after the George Floyd murder,” said Aki in a recent interview. “We saw a lot of conversation around demands for racial equity in these industries, so we wanted to primarily focus on the director level because those are the folks who do have a seat at the table and can suggest policy level change.”

“But we also wanted to shed light on the path for future BIPOC creatives who are seeking to be a director someday,” continued Aki. “We wanted to have a frank conversation around what it means to be BIPOC at a director or leadership level.”

These conversations took the form of virtual conferences hosted by BIPOC-DC in Sept/Oct 2020 and again in June 2021—with 25 directors participating at each conference. The number of participants suggests a real need for an organization like BIPOC-DC, even though it doesn’t have an official membership.

“We look at it as building community, really through the Collective,” explains Aki, “So while we don’t have a formal membership, we’ve had about 50 participants across the two conferences, collectively. We really think of them as our BIPOC-DC family at this point. They’re engaged with us in various ways [addressing] different issues that we’re working through right now.”

Within the Museum sector, many of these issues focus on paths to directorship positions for BIPOC individuals who are just coming up in the field; they also focus on how current directors can best mentor this next generation of leaders. The June 2021 Conference included some heavy-hitters within the industry who spoke to these topics. Nwaka Onwusa, of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, hosted the conference’s Museum Roundtable and interviewed speakers Thelma Golden (Studio Museum, Harlem), Franklin Sirmans (Perez Art Museum, Miami), Lauren Argentina Zelaya (Brooklyn Museum, New York), and Herb Hoi Chun Tam (Museum of Chinese in American, New York). (Readers can view this discussion on YouTube.) Louise Bernard, Museum Director of the Obama Presidential Center, moderated the Publishing / Media roundtable.

“As BIPOC directors within the space of this last year, what’s been important is that we hold fast to all the work that needs to be done in this moment,” said Thelma Golden during the Museum Roundtable. “We’re the ones who are thinking about the decisions, not just for this moment, but the decisions that will have an impact 10 years from now. That’s the legacy … once the curve of immediate actions and interests go, there’s still a wide amount of work to be done.”

And perhaps part of that “wide amount of work” includes conferences such as SEGD’s upcoming E+E event where Aki and other BIPOC directors will continue discussing topics such as “How can design narrative experiences be more inclusive and incorporate a multiplicity of voices and viewpoints?” What does this mean for us as individual designers? What does this mean for the industry as a whole? You can attend E+E “Designing Change: Unlearning and Learning” to discover more!

This E+E symposium (scheduled for August 4-5, 2021), will be unlike any that SEGD has hosted in the past. Many of the speakers and panelists identify as BIPOC, and they will share their perspectives on the experiential and exhibition design field by engaging attendees in conversations about race and equity. The event promises to bring together an interdisciplinary design community seeking new ways of working and designing in more inclusive ways.