Truth-Telling and Reconciliation Experiences

Read Time: 3 minutes

Throughout February, SEGD is focusing on the importance of experience design and experience designers to amplify, celebrate and bring Black culture and history to the forefront. We are kicking off the month by sharing a curated weekly series of video presentations from 2020 that feature designers in our SEGD community speaking about their roles in presenting difficult historical topics while engaging audiences through specific design strategies. First up, on February 3, is “Truth-Telling and Reconciliation Experiences” presented by L’Rai Arthur-Mensah and Ben Millstein of Local Projects.

“You cannot start the process of reconciliation without facing the facts,” contend L’Rai Arthur-Mensah (Senior Project Manager) and Ben Millstein (Communications + Marketing Manager) of Local Projects in their video presentation “Truth-Telling and Reconciliation Experiences.”

Their talk, taped in August 2020 for SEGD’s “Exhibition + Experience” Symposium, explores how truth-telling can lead to reconciliation, specifically through exhibition narratives and the design of those narratives.

According to Arthur-Mensah and Millstein, the design process begins with a common understanding of what “the truth” actually is. They begin by providing American slavery as an example. To properly acknowledge past wrongdoings—including the enslavement of African American peoples and the long-term consequences of that enslavement, even after Emancipation—there needs to be a common understanding of what the true narratives are. Designers can then present these stories in engaging ways, leading to the public’s better understanding of slavery and its impact, even today, on American society.

Arthur-Mensah and Millstein acknowledge that presenting these stories to the public is no quick or easy fix, but rather a first step towards reconciliation.

“We understand that to truly reconcile and heal from systemic trauma and oppression, it will take generations; we should not expect an overnight fix” says Arthur-Mensah. “But what can we do now? We can begin to make meaningful change by jumpstarting the process right now.”

Jumpstarting the process includes making particular design decisions when creating exhibitions for cultural organizations. In their video, Arthur-Mensah and Millstein present three specific projects, designed by their firm Local Projects, which illustrate these principles and focus on the purpose of each exhibition and the audience engagement with each:

  • “The March” commissioned by Time Studios which was designed as a traveling exhibition and premiered at the DuSable Museum of African American History (Chicago) in February 2020. It features Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech rendered in hyperreal VR.
  • Greenwood Rising, a new museum proposed for Tulsa, Oklahoma, which will chronicle the history of Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, once known as the Black Wall Street. The museum addresses the 100th anniversary of the destruction and burning of Greenwood in 1921, today referred to as the “1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.” In addition to presenting the history of Greenwood, the museum also asks audiences “How do we journey towards reconciliation?”

SEGD will be presenting the following videos later in February:

  • Feb 10 — “Designers Elevating Untold Narratives”  featuring the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Obama Presidential Center (Ralph Appelbaum Associates)
  • Feb 17 — ”Equity and Justice in the COVID Age” featuring Princeton University — Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding and Google NYC — Rising Together: The Black Experience with Police in America (Isometric Studio)
  • Feb 24 — ”From Absence to Presence” featuring the commemoration to enslaved peoples at St. Mary’s College, Maryland (RE:site)