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Why This Toronto Museum Created a New Design Festival

Freeman chief design officer Bruce Mau curated the primary exhibit for the 10-day public event.

By Mitra Sorrells October 5, 2017, 7:01 AM EDT

“The Future Is Wood” installation from Canadian home builder Great Gulf is intended to show that one of the oldest building materials in the world is also one of the most advanced.

Photo: Lane Dorsey

A new 10-day immersive festival and expo focused on demonstrating how design-thinking can solve some of the world’s biggest challenges wraps up Sunday in Toronto. EDIT: Expo for Design, Innovation, and Technology is an initiative of the city’s Design Exchange, a not-for-profit museum, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme. In 2015 the U.N.D.P. launched its Sustainable Development Goals, which include eradicating poverty, combating climate change, improving health and education, and more by 2030. Design Exchange president and C.E.O. Shauna Levy said those goals became the inspiration for the event.

“I saw the goals as design challenges, so that was a jump-off point in turns of how we curated and programed the event,” she said. “People are looking for inspiration and reaffirmation that the world is good place. This type of event does that. You leave inspired and excited and about the possibility of change and [feeling] that you can have a role in it.”

Levy asked renowned designer and author Bruce Mau, who also serves as chief design officer for Freeman, to curate an exhibit illustrating EDIT’s overarching message, “Prosperity for All.” The 12,000-square-foot exhibition, produced by Freeman, contrasts photojournalist Paolo Pelligrin’s images of global conflicts with design projects that provide solutions to those issues, such as a giant vacuum that removes smog from the air. Four sub-themes of the festival are Nourish, Shelter, Care, and Educate.

EDIT is taking place in a raw industrial space and former Unilever soap factory that is now part of the city’s new East Harbour development. “The venue was a very important piece to this. We knew from the beginning that this kind of project didn’t belong in a convention center or a hotel ballroom. It had to be in a unique space that also told our story,” Levy said. “We’ve kept the space pretty much as it was, and we’ve occupied every nook and cranny to create beautiful installations and projects.” The event fills four floors of the 150,000-square-foot venue, with 50 exhibits, 40 workshops, and 125 speakers.

Levy estimates about 75,000 people—spanning a diverse demographic profile from local families to design professional from around the world—will visit EDIT during the course of the 10 days. Organizers intentionally kept the ticket price low, just $15 for a daily ticket or $50 for the entire 10 days, to reach a broad audience.

“Design events often are just for designers. But there’s enough navel-gazing going on. It’s time that we shared this message with the broader public, so it was very important to us that it was an accessible experience,” Levy said.

The event began September 28 with a dinner for about 220 donors and sponsors in the building’s rooftop garden, followed by a party inside the exhibition attended by nearly 2,000 people. The closing event Sunday will be a free meal hosted by Food Network star Bob Blumer and prepared with ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away, as part of London-based charity Feedback’s “Feeding the 5000” series of events focused on reducing food waste.

EDIT sponsors include Freeman, Rogers Communications, Disney, Air Canada, Deloitte, IKEA, Metrolinx, and many more. Levy said they plan to host the event every two years.

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