Design in Mind

Steve Cantrell, the Design Council’s volunteer coordinator for the Museum of International Folk Art, truly jazzed about what’s to come.
Cantrell, who launched the Design Council in 2019 while working as the Museum of New Mexico Foundation director of leadership giving for the folk art museum, says the original idea behind the group was to showcase the natural connections between folk art and other truly extraordinary masterpieces of design.

“I was seeing the exact same faces at the museum,” Cantrell recalls. He worried that the folk art designation precluded the opportunity to draw fans of more contemporary art and design to the museum.

The timing coincided with the museum’s debut of a traveling exhibition, Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe, from Germany’s Vitra Design Museum. Cantrell sought to expand a pool of potential donors with the goal of raising funds for the exhibition and related public programming. The then-newly created Design Council reached out to a group of architects, fashion and furniture designers to create programming for this new art crowd.

The exhibition, which emphasized Girard as both a modern designer and a folk art collector, was a huge success. But then, COVID-19 hit. Suddenly, the Design Council was dormant.
This spring, the museum’s former executive director, Khristaan Villela, and Laura Addison, curator of European and American folk art collections, prevailed upon Cantrell to revive the group for a Sunday lecture. In late March, 50 people showed up to hear noted design critic and author Alexandra Lange discuss Girard’s work in the context of other mid-century designers who created toys and play spaces.

“Obviously it remains an interest,” says Cantrell. “MOIFA has a high profile in the community anyway, and it’s not rocket science when you’re building off its fame. But there are very strong design elements there.”

More Design Council programming is planned, including a September talk by color forecaster Keith Recker on his new book, Deep Color: The Shades That Shape Our Souls. Cantrell also has set his sights on an annual design lecture with its roots in the 10,000-object exhibition Multiple Visions: A Common Bond, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in December 2022 and highlights the global folk art collection gifted to the museum by Girard and his wife Susan.

“It’s really taking on a life of its own,” says Cantrell, speaking to the goals of any museum collection—and now, to the rebirth of the Design Council.



This article is from Member News Summer 2022. The image is: A member views a mid-century textile display featured in the 2019 exhibition, Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe. Photo © Andrew Kastner.