Cheryl Heller at TEDx

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Cheryl Heller at TEDx

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.@SVA_News Cheryl Heller gave inspiring talk at TED about a community garden project. read more here

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Monday, April 15, 2013 - 12:30pm

DSI department chair Cheryl Heller gave a thoughtful and inspiring talk at TEDxRVA on Friday about a community garden project she and a group of undergraduate students co-created with residents in Richmond. DSI student Sara Cornish reflects on the experience:

How we got our hands dirty co-creating in Richmond
By Sara Cornish

When our program chair Cheryl Heller was asked to deliver a TEDx talk about creativity in Richmond, she saw a great teaching opportunity—for MFA Design for Social Innovation at SVA, and her undergraduate design class, but also for the greater Richmond community. As Cheryl’s Teaching Assistant, I was excited for the chance to practice the collaborative design process we were teaching (if not also curious as to how the heck we were going to pull off a co-creation project and TEDx talk in the course of a month).

Co-creation is about creating “with” not “for.” In order to create real, lasting change, we designers must genuinely engage with the community. As MFA students at DSI, we’re learning this firsthand through place-based design projects, ethnographic research for client work, and our program’s collective ethos of collaboration. But to demonstrate the power of co-creation to Richmond, we realized that it was going to be necessary to design the garden in person together with neighborhood leaders.

The community of Highland Park, a low-income food desert in north Richmond, said they would love a local garden for fresh, affordable local produce. So we partnered with award-winning Richmond nonprofit Boaz & Ruth to hold a co-creation workshop in Highland Park.

Boaz & Ruth is managed by an inspiring group of social innovators and community leaders, providing job training and transitional employment. Our plan was to design and plan a garden for the community that would provide fresh vegetables to both neighbors and Firehouse 15, a family-style restaurant that employs graduates of Boaz & Ruth’s reentry program.

We convened a group of organizers, gardeners, maintenance staff, and even Peanut, a delightful little six-month-old who reminded us of the garden’s potential for intergenerational impact.

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