LinkUp Addis Staff Writer
Since its launch in 2015, Design Week has evolved to be one of the most anticipated events in Addis Ababa showcasing and coordinating local and international artists, designers, workshops, galleries, showrooms, cultural institutions, hotels and so much more. The weeklong event, which takes its audience across venues in the city, attracts thousands of people from all walks of life and has the power to engage them in an ecstatic journey of art design. Linkup spoke to Metasebia Yoseph, founder and manager of Design Week Addis Ababa.
Tell us about your background.
My background is multi-disciplinary. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Art History, and then put that into practice by working as a digital archivist at the Ethnographic Museum at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in Sidist Kilo, as well as working as a curatorial consultant in Washington, DC for the DC Arts Center and the Embassy of Finland. I received my Masters in Communication, Culture, & Technology, and put that into practice by working as a Marketing, Communications, and PR consultant in Ethiopia, and starting the Design Week Addis Ababa festival. I have also written a coffee table book on the Ethiopian coffee ceremony called “A Culture of Coffee”.
How did you come up to organize Design Week Addis Ababa? What was your vision for it?
I was familiar with the Design Week festivals that take place around the world and really appreciated the way it brought together different stakeholders and audiences from a variety of industries together under the umbrella of design and creativity. When I first moved back to Addis in 2013, I was surprised by the disconnect between the creative industries and the public sphere, between creative entrepreneurs and commercial and government spheres. And more importantly that design and design thinking were not at the center of our development strategy. I was hoping to create a collaborative platform that brought all of these things together for the better.
Did you think it would reach such a level of prominence?
I knew that Ethiopians are immensely creative so once a platform was available to celebrate and promote this, it could serve as a catalyst.
There are also Design Week events in other countries. Is your event a simple copy of those events or does it have its own unique features?
Each Design Week is unique to its host country, it reflects local creativity and design solutions but also offers an opportunity for international participants and exhibitors. We are also recognized members of the World Design Weeks, which gives us access to a network of international design communities.
What are the unique features of Design Week Addis Ababa, making it different from other ordinary events happening in Addis?
It’s one of the first events of its kind, providing a mash-up of different art forms, topics, creators, and innovators. We showcase innovations across seven themes: Technology, Industrial Design & Interiors, Fashion & Textiles, Art & Multimedia, Visual Communication (Graphic Design), Food & Gastronomy, and Architecture & Urban Planning, so essentially our world through a creative lens.
Have you had international recognitions as a result of DWAA? If yes, what are those?
Yes, after our first inaugural DWAA in December 2015, we were invited to Dubai to showcase Ethiopian design in Downtown Design during Dubai Design Week. We have also participated in Design Connections, hosted by the British Council during the London Design Festival. We have also consulted for other international organizations and companies, providing insights on Ethiopia’s creative industries and art scene.
Some people consider Design Week as a fancy event, just for a limited group of elites. Is it of any value to the general public?
Well, I hope people consider it as “fancy” because it is well executed. However, keeping design and the Design Week programming accessible is very important to us; this is why we don’t charge entrance for any of the public events. The value that it offers is access – to ideas, creativity, and inspiration. Because the core belief behind DWAA is that design has the power to dramatically impact the lives of everyday Ethiopians, and that is a key takeaway I want for anyone that attends.
You only organize DWAA every two years, why is that? Is it because of the challenges, or is it because you love the excitement?
We tried to make it annual, but have yet to secure the right partner to work with us on an annual basis. So we shifted the strategy to bi-annual, so that we could have an “on year” and an “off year”. During the on year we host DWAA in Addis Ababa and during the off year we participate in a Design Week or event related to the creative industries abroad, and this allows us to serve as ambassadors for Ethiopian innovation and design, which is in our mission statement.
Who can take part in Design Week (as an exhibitor/ performer and as a visitor)?
Anyone who applies and is selected can participate, but all are welcome to enjoy.
What unique features should we expect from the event this year?
Fascinating presentations and talks by innovators from a variety of industries, a curated shopping experience at our Design + Farmers Market, interactive exhibits, and stimulating events.
How did your audience grow from the first DWAA event to the last one? What do you expect this year?
Our event attendance has grown roughly 3.5 % after each edition. We expect several hundred attendees per event.
What are the locations that will be showcased on the event?
We will have satellite events taking place all over Addis, including the Hyatt Regency, Mura Craft Meat shop, the Laphto Complex, the Alliance Ethio-Française, Ambiance, Blue Space, the Rainbow Headquarters & Showroom, and Kana Studio.
What are the criteria to showcase one’s product/ service on Design Week?
You must apply during our Open Call for submissions via our online application form. Our Organizing Committee selects the final participants, who will pay a small registration fee to cover their exhibition and marketing tools.
What plans do you have for Design Week?
Design Week Addis Ababa (DWAA) is engaging in more design consultations and collaborations with different brands, as well as one-off events and workshops where we host international design professionals and facilitate collaborative projects through our Design Lab program. We are also developing a space to support the local creative community.
Who would you like to thank in connection with organizing DWAA?
We have an amazing group of partners who are helping to make DWAA 2019 a success, including strategic partnerships with Tourism Ethiopia, Kana Television, Flawless Events, ETTA, Zeleman Communications, Advertising & Productions, the Hyatt Regency, and Heineken. As well as programming partnerships with the Alliance Française, The Village, High Altitude Kitchen, Rainbow Bed, Foam & Beyond, Laphto Complex, Mezo Productions, Numek Advertising and Link Up Addis.