Visionaries series: The Department of Architecture & Design, MoMA NYC

Paola Antonelli aims to educate audiences on the importance and influence of design in everyday life.

Helping others isn’t just right thing to do—its also good for business. Case in point: Warby Parker. Led by co-founders Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa, the innovative eyewear company has transformed the way people think about buying glasses and giving back, proving it is possible for companies to do good in the world while still being profitable. Inspired by their success, we partnered with WP to recognize other socially conscious entrepreneurs in our third annual Visionaries Series. These forward thinkers have blended business with philanthropy, changing the game for their industries as well as millions of people in need around the world.

The Person: Paola Antonelli

The business: "The Museum of Modern Artseeks to create a dialogue between the established and the experimental, the past and the present, while being accessible to both scholars and young children. As the Senior Curator of Architecture and Design, I support contemporary architects and designers at all stages of their careers by helping to articulate their projects and the place of design in everyday life to the visitors that come through MoMA's doors.”

The Idea:MoMA was born in 1929, thanks to three women pioneers: Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Mary Quinn Sullivan, and Lillie P. Bliss. These New York ladies sought to create aninstitution devoted exclusively to modernist art, quite radical compared to the typical conservative art museums of the day.”

The Goal: “To help audiences come to a greater appreciation and understanding of design. Design has been misconstrued and treated as something superficial, as embellishment and decoration, but it’s one of the highest forms of creative expression—not to mention something we use everyday, whether we're conscious of it or not. I want to educate people on what it can do today and in the future, for all of us—and it does a lot. Design is a part of almost every facet of daily life in every culture and the fundamental enzyme for any kind of progress, on all scales.”

The Impact: “Design & Violence, a current curatorial experiment I co-organized, has created a conversation with the public about the intersections of design and violence in contemporary society.We've had a Nobel Peace Prize winner, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a child soldier, a survivor of sex trafficking, and many other compelling voices author responses to designs that range from the speculative to the concrete. Posts garner between 500 and 12,000 views on any particular day, and the debate has spiraled from the online comments section to the real world in a series of fierce debates we held at MoMA last year. It’s been an intense and rewarding project. Online exhibitions are risky, but D&V has proven to be a successful experiment on many fronts.”

The Inspiration: “I often begin my day with a good workout to get thoughts flowing then I move on to my second place of endless inspiration—the New York City subway. I love being surrounded by New Yorkers; they are endlessly fascinating.

The Surprises: “I've been doing my job for quite some time, so I’m used to the highs and lows that come with it. If there's anything that has surprised me about being a part of MoMA's senior staff, it's how little has changed in some ways from my very earliest days here in terms of my daily concerns and interests. I’ve been fortunate to have a job that has remained consistently engaging to me, and to have worked with some of the very best colleagues I could ask for.”

The X-Factor: “The Museum of Modern Art has a truly exceptional collection enhanced by great programming, all featuring an incredible crew of brilliant, dedicated people at all levels. We're also situated in the heart of Manhattan, one of the most culturally vibrant cities in the world. People of all types are passionate about visiting our museum and participating in the path it takes.”

The Future: “We are at a point where the best designs (and art) are no longer necessarily physical objects. Institutions like MoMA were created with only tangible objects in mind, and we have to decide how to navigate the shift into a world that is increasingly mediated through the digital and the virtual. The Creative Director of CCP Games, Torfi Frans Ólafsson, let us try a game he designed for the second release of the Oculus Rift (we have their video game Eve Online in our collection). When I put on the goggles, the square walls of our conference room were instantly transformed into a spaceship that I could control. Perhaps that is a metaphor for the future of museums?”

The Visionary in her eyes: “The designers themselves, certainly. I just met Angélique Kidjo at an event in Europe. She kindly wrote for Design and Violencelast year,on a topic she has raised awareness of for many years, Female Genital Mutilation. I think she is a visionary—and she's also a very elegant and warm person in the flesh.”

The Message:The title of our next exhibition comes from British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee's tweet at the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony: "This is for everyone" in reference to his radical design, the World Wide Web. However, as he knows and we do too, the Internet is only accessible to around 40% of the world's population. In the exhibition, I've flipped his formulation to ask: Is this [contemporary design] for everyone?" I think that would be my message—a question. The ensuing dialogue could get really interesting.”

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