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Just in Time

The Visual Arts Center shows us where design is going.



For the designers represented in the Visual Arts Center's "Time for Design," it's not enough that good design is seeping into unexpected arenas like the kitchen tools department at Target. Showcasing graphics, fashion and architecture by local designers, the exhibit illuminates the design process with the intention of raising awareness of its significance.

Viewers not only can see firsthand the products of the designers' work — from playful apparel to complex architectural models — but also can watch and listen to the designers discuss what they do on video monitors stationed throughout the gallery.

Fashion designers provide the most colorful design objects and interviews here. Displayed as if in a retail setting, their garments remind us that design need not live only on Paris runways. Nine offbeat menswear outfits by Carl Green, VCU's costume shop supervisor in the department of theatre, demonstrate how clothing can break from tradition while still functioning on the street. In a taped interview, Green critiques American men's clothing (bland and repetitious, he says) and talks with refreshing candor about design in general.

Some of the videotaped interviews are stiff (which doesn't help the architects, considering their projects are especially dense with ideas). But each designer's passion surfaces to humanize the work. Hat-making is highlighted particularly well in a film that follows Ignatius Creegan and Rod Givens around their studio for a demonstration and show-and-tell session.

"Time for Design" easily convinces the audience that designers can solve functional problems creatively, but the degree to which design can go even further may be best demonstrated by graphic design work. As it operates to give information about who, what and when, it can also communicate stories of purpose and vision. John Malinoski's tractor logo, for example, designed for the 17th Street Farmers' Market, not only creates a distinguishable identity for the organization, but also reminds the public of the significance of farmers to the community.

Design is a marriage of utility and beauty, and if we consumers are lucky, it gives meaning to our lives. It's a complicated exercise, and exhibitions about the processes run the risk of being tediously detailed or difficult to follow. "Time for Design" organizers may have hoped to create an in-depth look at the potential of design, but they ended up offering vignettes of projects that, while not thorough in their scope, appeal for their visual and functional innovation. That some of the offerings take that next step, and that these designers live and work nearby, makes "Time for Design" all the more satisfying. S

"Time for Design" appears at the Visual Arts Center, 1812 W. Main St., through Dec. 10. In a related program, Carol Coletta, host of the syndicated radio show "Smart City," will speak about design initiatives that have influenced redevelopment programs in other American cities and will lead a panel discussion about design's role in Richmond's redevelopment Nov. 8, 6 p.m., at VCU's Grace Street Theater.

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