Designing Change in Florence

Over the years, countless groups of US undergrads have flocked to Florence to study Art and Art History – and what better place to do it? Loyola Marymount University Design professor Saeri Cho Dobson chose a different approach, however. Against Florence’s rich cultural patrimony and in the shadows of Renaissance masters, Dobson challenged students to view the impact of contemporary art and design through a social justice lens. In Florence, a city defined by its artistic past, students from Los Angeles looked toward the future.

The course, Design Entrepreneurship, engaged with local artisans and community leaders to measure the potential of design to positively impact Florence’s urban well-being, raising awareness of social and environmental issues in the local community and among visitors.

Students participated in a series of visits and activities in order to better understand the local context and collect information toward their own project proposal. At the end of the program, they were asked to propose their own entrepreneurial design venture, reflecting the history and unique contemporary challenges of the city.

To this end, students worked closely with the volunteer non-profit organization Angeli del Bello, which organizes cleanups in parks and piazzas around the city. Alongside local volunteers, students cleaned graffiti behind the Santa Maria Novella train station and tended to the Rose Garden in Oltrarno, just below Piazzale Michelangelo.

The clean-up drew students’ attention to Florence’s graffiti, from works by internationally renowned street artists to acts of vandalism by young Florentines. In a meeting with local artist Massimiliano LoRusso, the group explored the subject through his works on recycled materials. LoRusso’s work, exhibited in Galleria Immaginaria, is geared toward the improvement of local schools and illustrates the impact of young artists in the local community.

Students presented final projects to a panel that included professor Dobson, a local entrepreneur with experience in the US and UK, and an art curator. As a culmination of the experience, each group presented a business plan with demographic research, marketing materials, and a website.