Boston Design Week honors this year’s award winners
The physical constraints (and technical difficulties) of Zoom, necessitated for Boston Design Week’s 2021 Design Awards by the pandemic-induced absence of a venue, did not impede their presenters from honoring fresh exemplars of design’s capacity to enrich lives, assist the poor, mentor neophytes, promote fine arts and crafts, and pierce the darkness of the coronavirus age with a socially congregating light/sound spectacle.
Furthermore, Zoom proved advantageous. Free of the fire-code occupancy limits that imposed an attendance ceiling on the 2019 Design Awards in South Boston’s Artists for Humanity EpiCenter, the recent Zoomcast reached a wider audience, displayed the nominees’ design work crisply on PowerPoint and actually lured watchers from their home computers into physical reunion.
“People who watched it are posting it all over the place,” said Tony Fusco, who co-produced all 13 of Boston Design Weeks with Bob Four, his partner in Fusco & Four Associates Marketing and Public Relations, except for last year’s COVID-mandated postponement of the annual 12-day festival. “One nominee had a party to watch the awards. It was the first time they’d gotten together with friends in 15 months.”
The event, now viewable on Facebook and YouTube, was co-presented remotely by Fusco and Allison Iantosca - owner/president of F.H. Perry Builder of Hopkinton. Absent an auditorium audience, winner announcements met prerecorded plaudits.
“That was Samantha’s idea,” said Fusco of arts executive Samantha Gambaccini, who engineered the presentation. “She said, ‘When you guys announce awards, it’s kind of quiet. Maybe you should applaud.’ So, Allison and I applauded, and Samantha said, ‘That’s just not doing it.’ So, she found an applause track…that sounded like a stadium full of people.”
First to be “applauded” was Newcomer of the Year Angela Luna, founder/owner of ADIFF Clothing. Fusco cited her for developing clothes from recycled materials, opening a sustainable clothing plant in Greece that empowers resettled refugees to make their own apparel, and spearheading a similar lifejacket-reuse initiative in Afghanistan, shown by video in the presentation. Luna received this award “because she’s making such a huge impact right out of college,” said Fusco.
“We evolved from just creating support for the refugee crisis to combating fashion’s role in climate change and also systemic racism [by] pushing the boundaries of what design can really accomplish,” Luna said upon accepting the honor over champagne with friends at her apartment.
The Social Impact Award went to the Esplanade Association for “Hatched: Breaking Through the Silence,” a projection of digitally animated kaleidoscopic images of orchestral instruments, handclaps, geometric forms and colors onto the Hatch Shell’s iconic wood-panel arcs, set to music composed by event designer Maria Finkelmeier of MF Dynamics. Running Jan. 22–Feb. 21, it celebrated the Association’s 20-year liaison with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Choosing the Esplanade Association for this award “had a lot to do with the delivery of that program in a very dark period in Boston’s history,” said Fusco. “They estimated that 30,000 to 40,000 people came to the Esplanade for that program in a safe way, socially distant but family-oriented.”
“I’m glad we could bring some light to Boston during a really hard year,” said Alison McRae, the Association’s capital projects manager, in her acceptance speech.
Learn more about the Esplanade Association at https://esplanade.org/hatched.
The Producers’ Choice Award went to the Society of Arts and Crafts, the oldest fine arts and crafts organization in the U.S., “in recognition of its storied history, its design leadership, and for fostering artistic talent since its founding in 1897,” said Iantosca.
She cited the Society’s new curated digital marketplace of artists’ work and online events for its “lowering of barriers for the public to experience fine craft by placing all efforts online.”
“Ceramics, wood, glass, jewelry, we all prefer to experience those materials in person and up close, but we did it online,” said Brigitte Martin, the Society’s executive director. “So here we are, almost 125 years old and embracing innovation and new technologies. And how do we do that? We always listen closely to what’s going on around us, what our artists are up to, especially the young ones.”
Mentorship of the young ones was saluted as architectural photographer Michael J. Lee, whose images have graced the covers of more than 50 interior design publications, was named Mentor of the Year.
“He raises his industry colleagues up literally every day he works, mentoring us all to be better designers,” Iantosca read from Lee’s nomination statement.
“People rave about his ability to help designers understand what they should be looking for in their photography for magazines,” said Fusco. “The judges felt he fit that category of someone who day in and day out is helping to make the design profession stronger.”
For helping to make the furniture-craft profession stronger, especially by arranging new facilities and funds for North Bennet Street School as its president, Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez of Weston received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Miguel was the first student at the North Bennet Street School who rose to become its president,” said Fusco. “He oversaw that whole $28 million capital campaign to move the school to its current location, but let it remain in the North End. As a furniture-maker, he is as well known nationally as locally. His work was published in a number of magazines, and he serves on boards and committees for the furniture-making profession. He was retiring and we wanted to recognize his many years of service.”
Zoom connection difficulties frustrated Gómez-Ibáñez’ award acceptance remarks. But in a precedent interview, he reflected on his furniture craftsmanship career and his coordination of the school’s 2013 relocation to a repurposed police station and city government printing building at 150 North St. after more than 125 years at the cramped 39 North Bennet St. facility.
“I was successful at that because I came from an architect’s background, so I had connections in that world and was able to bridge that gap and attract donors…from all different branches of the design ecosystem,” said Gómez-Ibáñez, who also raised funds for a student scholarship endowment so the school could expand its time-honored tradition of training immigrants, low-income people and career-changers with employable manual-arts skills in furniture-building, cabinetmaking, carpentry, preservation carpentry, jewelry-making, bookbinding, locksmithing, violin-making and piano technology.
The endowment buffered the school’s COVID-engendered declining enrollment and conversion to distance learning. “When I left, there was a significant endowment that’s really helped cushion the blow as part of my $20 million fundraising efforts as president. The stock market’s been…offsetting it with a silver lining when the school had to take a huge hit in revenue.”
Gómez-Ibáñez, who retired as president in 2018, also credits his furniture-making education and experience to his impact on the school and furniture craft in general. He had led MGIA Architects in Boston before a 1996 exhibition of North Bennet Street School student and alum furniture work at the Boston Architectural Center (now Boston Architectural College) redirected his calling.
“The competence I saw in the work in that exhibition inspired me to leave the career I had always imagined for myself and enroll in the cabinet & furniture making program,” he wrote in the school blog in 2018. “I wanted to be that skilled.”
His rewards for honing his craft included the featuring of his furniture in publications such as House and Garden, Good Housekeeping and Fine Woodworking, nationwide exhibition of his work, past presidency of The Furniture Society, judging many furniture exhibitions, and the display of works like his Alphabet Cabinet, emblazoning floral motifs of all letters on its drawer panels, at the 2021 Design Awards presentation, as one of its multiple pandemic-transcendent testaments to the social un-distancing power of design.
“Both makers and designers are very interested in the built world, very involved in objects around them,” said Gómez-Ibáñez. “That’s what brings people together—love for well-made things.”
This year’s award winners:
- "Newcomer of the Year" - Angela Luna, ADIFF
- "Social Impact Award" - Charles River Esplanade, "Hatched"
- "Mentor of the Year"- Michael J. Lee, Michael J. Lee Photography
- "Producers' Choice" - Society of Arts + Crafts
- "Lifetime Achievement" - Miguel Gómez- Ibáñez