Design/Relief, a project connecting members of AIGA New York with the local New York communities after Superstorm Sandy, was conceived as a civic design initiative by Turnstone’s Rachel Abrams and MTWTF’s Glen Cummings during our time on the AIGA NY board.

Together with other board members, including board chair, Willy Wong, we secured $200,000 funding from ArtPlace to realize the project. In 2013, in the year following the storm, three teams got involved, joining with community partners in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Rockaway in Queens and the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan to make a local impact. The teams were drawn from the AIGA design membership, expertly directed by the appointed program director, Laetitia Wolff. 

Civic engagement by design

AIGA NY’s goals for Design/Relief were to engage with, encourage and accelerate positive change in these three communities, and spark imagination about better futures for and by the people in each place.

A new civic engagement program for AIGA NY, the program set out to demonstrate design as a communications-driven, participatory process that can help to generate and activate local responses to local challenges. 

Co-creating more resilient streets, neighborhoods, cities

The program showed neighborhood partners, the wider community, local change-makers and media how design practices can support grass-roots, co-creative projects. Design/Relief’s outcomes showed designers that their skills piloting projects and experience tolerating uncertainty and exploring risks and their values can bring benefits to new contexts, in new collaborative configurations, so together, these partners can pool expertise to challenge how things are usually done, to build more resilient streets, communities and neighborhoods across the city. The AIGA’s civic engagement programs continue today.

Visible, Legible Navigable, the Design/Relief film

The AIGA New York’s evocative short film about its 2013-14 Design/Relief initiative was produced by Band of Light (Meshakai Wolf and Zac Nicholson) and released in February 2015. Full credits for the project are at the end of the film and on the Design/Relief section of the AIGA NY web site.


Project details

Brooklyn Red Hook Initiative, Good Shepherd, Brooklyn Public Library, Red Hook Coalition, NY Rising
Queens Rockaway Youth Taskforce, Rockaway Artists' Alliance, Rockaway Times, The Wave, Yana, Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation
Manhattan Community Board 1, South Street Seaport Museum, Old Seaport Alliance, Fresh Salt

Additional resources