Kelly Walters

We have had a good number of design educators this year on Revision Path, but how many of them have written a book on designers of color? Meet Kelly Walters, an artist, designer, and educator who is currently the assistant professor and associate director of the BFA Communication Design program in the Parsons School of Design at The New School in New York. Kelly is also the founder of the multidisciplinary design studio Bright Polka Dot. Talk about having a full schedule!

Kelly talked about the adjustments she has made over the last year with respect to teaching, and we talked about how she was exposed to the arts early, but never thought of it as a profession. We also discussed the works she’s done through her studio, collaborating with other Black design educators, and the launch of her upcoming book “Black, Brown & Latinx Design Educators: Conversations on Design and Race.” Thank goodness for educators like Kelly who are helping add to the corpus of design history!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Kelly Walters:
My name is Kelly Walters. I’m an artist, educator, designer. I teach at Parsons School of Design. And yeah, I make things. I make a bunch of different things. Print and digital, and everything in between.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How are you feeling so far about 2021?

Kelly Walters:
2021? You know, I was really curious to see how the inauguration was actually going to play out at the end of December. Just anxious about all the various things that have been happening. And I think the beginning of 2021 felt really rocky just for me and trying to understand the end of one presidency, the beginning of a next, the middle of a pandemic, and just a lot of uncertainty. So it felt a little overwhelming, I think. But it feels like it’s getting potentially better. As best as better can be, I guess. I don’t know if that’s a thing, but …

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, I can certainly see how it sort of feels a bit like we’re starting to see the light at the end of this long pandemic sized tunnel in a way. So I know what you mean. Now especially that we have new leadership, there’s vaccines that are out there, people are getting vaccinated. It feels like things are starting to go into a different direction.

Kelly Walters:
Yeah. I feel like, I don’t know. I’m just anxious for everyone and making sure that we can safely make it through this second year I guess, of this new world that we’re in. And I’m also really curious to see what patterns or observations that are made in this time that will affect us longer than this time, I guess. Longer than the year and change that it’s been. I’m really curious to see what it looks like. And being able to reflect back maybe even in 10 years or five years, what I remember of this era. So I don’t know. I’m reflexive I think in that way of looking forward and back if I can at the same time.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s funny. That’s kind of, January is after the Greek, I think Greek god or demigod Janice, that has one face looking forward, one face looking back. So that’s a very kind of apt comparison. Are things different for you now than they were last year?

Kelly Walters:
I’m trying to think. At this point last year, we were maybe a week out before everything shut down. If I recall, I think the last time I was in New York was March 11th when we were told two days later, everyone had to stay at home. And I think things were more uncertain in some ways at the very beginning of that last year. And as I reflect on where I am now, I don’t know. I feel like there’s still unknowns, but I’m living to sit inside of the uncertainty. It’s very uncomfortable to do that, but I don’t know. I think more than last year, I feel like this year, you have to sit with the uncertainty in a way that I don’t know. I don’t know how to really describe that exactly. I just feel like I’m navigating what it means to not know even more than before, and not take for granted what was thought to be stable. Or what was thought to be certain, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So what is a regular day like for you now?

Kelly Walters:
Well, my home, is my office, is my classroom, is my social space. So it’s the all-purpose room for many things. And I think it was weird to navigate that last year of finding what the delineation is between all of those kind of spaces. But I think depending on who you’re talking to in meetings, whether it’s coworkers, or your friends, or your family, kind of figuring out a way to feel as though even at your own environment, home environment, that in a separate area or at a certain time of the day, that it can feel as though you can feel the shift. And it’s sometimes it’s about just getting up, and walking outside, and coming back, and feeling like you’ve gone into a new room. Or changing the lighting, or opening the blinds, or turning on the light. I think it’s these small actions to make it feel like you’re in a different space sometimes. So I feel like that’s what my day’s like more and more now of just what are the subtleties that I can adjust in my home environment to feel like I’m in a different space, I guess.

Maurice Cherry:
Has there been a change in how you’ve been teaching or anything like that?

Kelly Walters:
Yeah, definitely. I think now, it’ll be a full year of teaching remotely online. And I think that for my program, the communication design program at Parsons, I think we had transitioned to an online teaching format. And I think what was really challenging the beginning was trying to figure out what does it mean to do a critique in this environment? What does it mean to build up student rapport and morale, and all of those, and community around students that you are working with that previously you were seeing physically in a particular space? And I think the difference between what I’ve learned in that kind of crisis, moving in somewhat of a crisis mode to teach remotely versus starting the year teaching remotely. It’s just like I’ve been working with students all year that I probably won’t ever get to meet in person. So there’s this difference in trying to figure out how to get to know someone as much as one can. An online format through smaller group conversations, or having Slack channels or things where people can sort of commune in a digital sphere. But it’s definitely been different than previous years.

Maurice Cherry:
And has Parsons kind of been accepting of all of this and all these changes that have been going on?

Kelly Walters:
Yeah. I mean, I think every program is navigating this in its own way. I think that including ours, we have tools, and supplies, and things that we are wanting our students to use for all these various projects. But with students kind of navigated across the world really, it makes it difficult for them to be able to have access to that. And I think that the school is aware and understands as does many other institutions as well, that the safety protocols of social distancing, and having rapid tests, and all kinds of things to kind of make sure that people are being safe on campus is understood. I think it’s just challenging overall, many schools as well. Where students want to be back, but we’re kind of navigating the pace of the pandemic and what that looks like.

Maurice Cherry:
What courses are you teaching right now?

Kelly Walters:
I am teaching a Black visual culture class, and that’s a class that I’ve created. It stems from some of my research. And then I’m also teaching a senior thesis course with our BFA students.

Maurice Cherry:
A Black visual culture class. That sounds pretty dope.

Kelly Walters:
Yeah. I mean, I’m figuring it out. I think it’s an experiment, and I’m learning how to teach it, and learning how to teach it from the perspective that I’m seeing, and also being influenced by how my students are seeing. I feel like I’m learning as much through them as I’m providing to the class as well. So a lot of it is about learning how to teach even this material. Just as much as I may know certain things, they also know things that I don’t. And I try to build that into the context of the class.

Maurice Cherry:
Now have you taught this in person before? Or have you only just done it virtually?

Kelly Walters:
Yeah. Fall 2019, I taught it for the first time in person. It was very different. We were using the Risograph machine. We had access to come together in a classroom space and project and view, view material together. And I think it’s a little harder to do that now. But yeah, I had taught it in person before.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What does teaching do for you as a designer? And we’ll get into your design work as well. But how do those two work together?

Kelly Walters:
I feel like they’re interconnected. I think for me, teaching is a way of relearning tools, or techniques, or methods that I’m using in my own practice. So when I’m talking with students or we’re talking about projects, or conceptualizing about something, or trying to figure out how to make something, I think I feel like I’m a co-facilitator or co-collaborator in that, where we can talk through strategy. We can talk through approach. And I think it’s so important to my practice because through those discussions and my ability to kind of think through how do I deliver this material to students? How do we discuss X, Y, or Z, or think through these things? I see my own self being able to kind of in my practice, reflect on even those lessons or conversations that I’ve had with students.

Kelly Walters:
And I think they inform each other. And I think my design practice with things that are happening outside of the classroom, those experiences working with clients or working with other artists and designers. For me, those are examples that I can draw upon to kind of bring into the class about this is how I did X, Y, or Z with whoever. And I think it lends a bit of a credibility to it as well, because it’s not like I’m just making stuff up. I’m speaking from the various experiences that I’ve had. I think it’s helpful to draw upon as lessons in the classroom space.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting. Because I’m sure that like you say, the students are informing you, as you are going through all of this. I wondered though if it was maybe easier because now you’re teaching over kind of an entirely visual medium. Teaching over the web. You can use Zoom, you can point to YouTube videos. But I don’t know. Have you found that it’s been a little easier in some ways?

Kelly Walters:
Yeah. In some ways it is. Because the only thing that’s between us is the screen. Right? And what I’ve really loved about this time is being able to draw on the screen over the design. So when a student is sharing the work of let’s say a book that they’re making, or progress on some design work. Once it’s up, I have the ability to annotate on the screen. And I’ve been doing more and more of that because I can point out very specific details. Whereas previously, it’s harder to do that with everyone just looking at one big projector screen. So I think there’s a hyperfocus in some way that the screen sharing and annotating various tools on the screen, or me just sharing how I do something in a software or program. Just seems like the focus and attention is a little bit more direct than sometimes it can get lost in the classroom. Because you’re running to class. You’re tired. You’re not really looking at the screen. Your head is down. Lots of other distractions sometimes in the space when 15 other students are with you. So I think that there’s some positives to the hyperfocus that I think lends for some students.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s kind of switch gears here a little bit. I know we’ve been focusing now on your teaching and the work that you’re doing there. I’m curious, were you kind of always exposed to design and art even growing up as a kid?

Kelly Walters:
I think so. I look back at this. In elementary school, I went to what was called an arts magnet school. And I don’t think I really fully thought through this until you’re asking me now, further back than even college. But I think in elementary school, because it was an arts magnet, there was a huge emphasis on creative projects. And from movement and dance to artistic projects that were happening in the art room, plays, and musicals, and all these various things. And I don’t think I fully thought through how much of an influence it’s had on me. Because once I left elementary school, I was still interested in arts, and I always did band, and was definitely a music and band person. But I think what happened was that you had to choose, right?

Kelly Walters:
I think for middle school and high school in particular, you could only do one art or art focused discipline as part of your credit sequence. And I chose marching band, and I chose band, and would always be in a lot of the music classes. But because of that, I only got to take one art class at the end of high school, which was a graphic design class.

Kelly Walters:
So I think I was exposed to music or creative environments. But not really knowing what to do with it, or just thinking that it might be a hobby. I think through middle school and high school, thinking that art could be a hobby, not necessarily as a profession.

Kelly Walters:
But at the same time, there was one other project that I did in eighth grade where I think I wrote away to Pixar. And Pixar sent me back a folder of all of these inserts from all of the different animated films, and Toy Story, and Bug’s Life, and all this stuff. Again, I think there were things that happened, but I didn’t connect the dots I think at that time that I was interested in some kind of computer animation or computer generated imagery kind of thing. But not knowing exactly what to do with it.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s something interesting that you mentioned there about how in elementary school, there were all of these different arts and music. And I don’t know, you were exposed to a lot of it. And it had me even thinking about when I was a kid, we had school plays. We had of course music classes with recorders and the little xylophone blocks, and all that sort of stuff. And it was always just kind of presented as options. Not necessarily, “If you stick with this, you could be a musician.” But more so just showing you that this is kind of out there. It’s an option.

Maurice Cherry:
And of course as you go through your education, you go from elementary school, to middle to high school, it appears like those options kind of winnow away a bit. It’s less about arts and more about humanities and science. Depending on what school that you go to. I’m curious, knowing that that was your experience as an educator, does that help inform you when you’re teaching your students now?

Kelly Walters:
Just the types of exposures that I’ve had you mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Kelly Walters:
Yeah. I mean for me, I think what’s really important is that people feel like there’s versatility, that they can have adaptability, that they can use these different skillsets in different ways. And I think my exposure to music for example, while I’m not a musician anymore, play the clarinet like I used to, I think being in the creative musical environment for as long as I can remember, there’s just a sense of improvisation. A sense of listening for others, hearing other voices. So those things have translated for me. Even again just using marching band for example, the ability to be a single individual playing inside of the sound while also creating sound, I think is just something that it translates in other areas I think of my practice. Where you’re kind of trying to be attune, and listening, and taking note, and being observant. So I think that those things have definitely translated to teaching and working with students.

Maurice Cherry:
What did you play in the marching?

Kelly Walters:
I played clarinet.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice, nice.

Kelly Walters:
Yes. The small fin, less heavy instruments.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a good instrument.

Kelly Walters:
It is. It is. Woodwind instrument.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. When did you know that working with design and art was something that you wanted to do for a living?

Kelly Walters:
When did I know? When I entered undergrad, I was still uncertain. I went to UConn up in Storrs, Connecticut. And I came in as an undecided, undeclared major in my freshman year. And I think I was again, the idea that art could be was present. There were things that I was doing that was creative. But I guess I just didn’t know or have enough awareness of what could be or what was possible. But I did know that I wanted to start taking some more art classes. And it was in that process of taking, I think it was a drawing class or painting class in my spring semester is when I was like oh yeah, this is immersive conversation. The looking, and the thinking, and conceptualizing, it just felt right. And I think it’s when at that point, I applied to get into the graphic design program. And I think it was once I was in that program, and I was seeing, and I was exposed to more pathways that I really was excited about that discipline.

Maurice Cherry:
While you were at UConn, I’m curious. What was your time like overall outside of just studying?

Kelly Walters:
Well, I also did marching band in college. So for me, I really liked it in that you got to go to football games, and basketball games, and things like that. And I think on one hand, I was really just trying to find myself as an undergrad and navigate this really rural environment. I was coming out of more of a city suburb backdrop previously just growing up. So Storrs, Connecticut was really rural. So for me, there was also this kind of tension of navigating being in that sort of isolated space. And it also being really predominantly white and feeling like I was missing … I think towards the end as I was about to graduate, I was ready to kind of move to a more eclectic, more diverse space. But I think as my time evolved while I was there, it took me time to figure out who I was, and what I was saying, and what I wanted to say. By the end, I was like okay, I’m ready to go elsewhere or try something new.

Kelly Walters:
But I think it had its challenges. I think that I was one of very Black students in the art program. Luckily the year that I went through, I think we had in graphic design, I think there were three of us that were kind of in the program together. And I think the other kind of interesting thing about UConn is that it’s known for basketball and science, right? So those are giant components of the campus culture. And everyone kind of fawning around all the basketball players, or science and research were really dominant focuses of the campus. As I look back, I was just learning how to become who I am in some way. and navigating again, what I needed to do next.

Maurice Cherry:
When you graduated, did you feel like you were prepared for the design world, prepared to work as a designer?

Kelly Walters:
When I graduated, I felt bereft of the academic environment in some way. Because my thesis project as an undergrad was called Black, and I was investigating my identity, who I am, what I wanted to say like I was saying before. And the design work was very, it might even be if we were to kind of situate it, almost kind of as a contemporary artist. Right? So I was making work in a way that what I was concerned about was how it was going to be perceived in a more corporate context, and how I could apply for jobs with my thesis saying Black very visibly on it.

Kelly Walters:
I think I was just trying to, when I finished getting out of school, I was trying to figure out what my design community would be. And it was a very different time. We have all these different digital spaces, Black spaces where people are convening, and connecting, and meeting each other. Yeah. I don’t think that I knew what it meant to have a community. I didn’t know what kind of design I really wanted to do or go in. So I was a freelancer for the first year or so out of school, where I was kind of navigating through job boards, and finding places to do smaller, freelance gig projects with.

Kelly Walters:
It was also in that time that one of my former professors had reached out about teaching in a class at the University of Bridgeport. So I was like, “Really, can I teach? Can I do this really?” And I think her reaching out, and because my mom is a teacher, they were really supportive of figuring out the thing, or not figuring out, but helping me figure out how I could begin to teach in this collegiate environment. Because I started in that way, it was like freelancing. I was teaching. I started out with a hybrid practice, and I feel like I’ve kind of maintained that ever since in some way where there was a kind of a triad of working in industry, teaching, and having also a research practice that may not necessarily be for clients at the same time.

Maurice Cherry:
And now is this the beginnings of Bright Polka Dot?

Kelly Walters:
Yeah. And actually, Bright Polka Dot was born out of a web design class that I had in college, because we were all asked to create portfolio sites. And my name is so common, that there’s hundreds of people that have my name, Kelly Walters. So I was trying to come up with these different permutations of Kelly A Walters, Kelly Ann Walters. I was just trying different versions of things. And I didn’t like the other options that were left, like .biz .net. So I was like, well maybe I’ll just go in a very different direction and just kind of think about a moniker, if you will.

Kelly Walters:
Many of the fabrics and the patterns that I always gravitate towards are polka dots. So I was really interested in this idea of polka dot. And then I was also interested in adding bright to it. Also a metaphor for myself, but also just kind of a lively addition to polka dot, I guess. So I went with it. And there’s a very particular pattern that I use for one of my design books that is kind of also the very specific inspiration. I don’t know where it is. It’s somewhere in my apartment somewhere, but that became my website name. And I’ve kept it ever since. And I don’t know. It felt right I think to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Now as you sort of started Bright Polka Dot, and then even as you’re kind of navigating the postgraduate world, how did Bright Polka Dot change? Did you sort of start it off in one way and it shifted into something else?

Kelly Walters:
I think what’s interesting for me was navigating wanting to work with different design studios, right? And different agencies. And again, trying to figure out how to mesh more corporate work that has nothing to do with me versus projects that are kind of self-driven and are interested in various topics or themes.

Kelly Walters:
In the very beginning, my portfolio on my website would reflect a lot of work that wasn’t necessarily from me, but might be client oriented. That was I don’t know, it was just really corporate in a lot of ways. And I wasn’t sure what I needed to have up there to get a job, to look a certain way. I think I was very conscious of wanting to put up work that looked like a thing that would impress someone else. As I’ve gotten older and as my projects have changed in what important values are important to me at this point, what was more important was having a blend of projects that I was excited about, that were really connected to me, to communities that I’m a part of. That could really just push forth topics, conversations, have a critical point of view. And I think that that’s what’s kind of shifted in the last several years as my portfolio has continued to change, and projects that I’ve done are kind of again, discussing large or grander topics than I had previously.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Let’s talk about some of the projects that you’ve done through Bright Polka Dot. One of them that I saw, I think it was one that I saw right off the bat was … and forgive me, I might be getting this wrong. I think it’s God is a Black Woman, I believe is what it was titled.

Kelly Walters:
Yeah. So The Black Woman is God.

Maurice Cherry:
The Black Woman is God. Thank you.

Kelly Walters:
Yeah. So that one, the curators for the exhibition were Melorra Green and Karen Seneferu. And when I was living in the Bay Area, I worked with SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco. And one of the exhibitions that I was invited to work towards for the design components around was The Black Woman is God. And it was the first time I think … I’ve worked on it two or three times in different years for a different theme. But the first time was super exciting for me to connect with curators. And the show essentially featured black women in the Bay who were presenting art and design works in the SOMArts Cultural Center gallery space. And I think through those projects and thinking through the visual identity, I was just really interested in playing with color, playing with typography, and subverting expected visual tropes about what blackness is, and really kind of draw upon inspiration for things that I was seeing as typography in either old film posters, or one exhibition was called Reprogramming The God Code. And I was just thinking about the digital component of what reprogramming means and trying to think through typography that had a certain kind of digi vibe. So yeah, I was just really thinking through the approach in a lot of different ways for those exhibitions.

Maurice Cherry:
And one of the others, I know your research does focus kind of a lot on Black cultural media in a way. There’s another project Superfly and Shaft.

Kelly Walters:
Yeah. I mean, I think what’s also a part of my practice is looking at visual identities, and again, typography that are a part of really influential or iconic spaces, media spaces. Whether that’s films, television, music. I’ve been doing just deeper dives around who created this work, right? Was it created by black designers? Was it created by non-black designers? What does it mean that this image or symbol is actually, it represents blackness, but not have come from a black artist or designer, I guess? And just thinking about what that means from social and cultural standpoint. And how within the Superfly work, just kind of amplifying and looking closely at what was significant. For me, out of that poster was the letter forms, and hyper isolating into certain areas, and then remixing. And in some way, I think the music influences that I’ve had. And I think about as if I were a DJ, right? What are the remixes and the samplings that I can do from these different eras, from these different visual graphics? And how do you reassemble them, where they can maybe speak to someone who like my parents, grew up with those films. But also, the visual and the type of graphic play potentially speak to someone right now who’s an emerging designer, and maybe not has ever seen that film or series of films. So I like the idea of remix and juxtaposition.

Maurice Cherry:
And now as we sort of delve into that more, which is your research focus. as it says in your bio, you focus on how sociopolitical frameworks and shifting technology influence the sound, symbols, and styles of Black cultural vernacular in mainstream media. Which sounds like a mouthful. What sort of research is happening right now on Black visual culture? You can talk about some of the other work that you’re doing, or maybe something that you’ve seen from peers, anything like that?

Kelly Walters:
The thing that I’m finding really kind of interesting right now is that a few years ago, I was just reading articles about digital blackface. And the circulation of memes, and gifs, and things like that on a social channel, like Instagram, or Facebook, or Twitter. And I was drawn to kind of understanding what does it mean to have something that’s digital blackface? And what is blackface? And I think I was going down a path in terms of research of just trying to understand more historically about how blackface has surfaced in the United States and what its history and its lineage has been. And I think there’s so much kind of visual content today that has a connection to that lineage. We just don’t always know what it is, or it’s been suppressed in various ways where it’s not been analyzed and talked about in the context of graphic design. But it’s analyzed and talked about in many other disciplines. Whether it’s media studies, or Africana studies. Things like that, I think that there’s so much scholarship that’s been generated around images, and understanding the root of those images.

Kelly Walters:
So anyway, I think for me as a designer that’s working with type and image often, I just wanted to have a better understanding of that history. And I began to kind of do research around music publishing, and early music publishing. And for me, was trying to trace the lineage between a music album cover to that early music sheet cover, and forms that have surfaced in between. So I think that it’s been a lot about excavation, and trying to see what I can find. And using digital collections to see what’s available and look closely at who was publishing various works. If there’s information about the artist. Sometimes, the artist’s name is embedded on the illustrations of those early works.

Kelly Walters:
So it’s just been for me right now, navigating a lot of that historical information. And I think what I begin to do with that is again, the remix part is wanting to look closely at the topography. And these become typographic specimens. And I think what’s really loaded and charged about doing that is the time is really charged. So I’m trying to be mindful of what does it mean for my own positionality to be working on top of these works, or fragmenting, or cropping them in particular ways? What do I find sacred? What can I touch? What is uncomfortable for me in creating a collage or a remix, if you will? And I think that I struggle and tangle with all of those things I think in the creation of work that responds to that research.

Maurice Cherry:
And now you’re also coming out with a book soon, right? Is this the culmination of this research?

Kelly Walters:
No. So the book that’s coming out is called Black, Brown + Latinx Design Educators: Conversations on Design and Race. And because for me, there’s multiple avenues of my practice and things that I’m exploring, right? The research that I was talking about is one avenue. Another of my design practice is collaborating and connecting with other design educators or designers of color. And this particular book that’s coming out features 12 interviews. One of which includes myself with design educators from across the United States and Canada. And it features kind of an interview of our experience getting into design, navigating private and public university and college settings, and what it means to now be teaching in the environments that we are. So I’m super excited about this book coming out at the end of the month actually on March 30th. Just because it’s the first time that I’ve had a public, a really, really public project I think like this, that is being published at this scale. So I’m excited, and scared, and all the things in between as well.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing. Congratulations on the book.

Kelly Walters:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you hope people get out of it?

Kelly Walters:
I think what I hope the most is that folks like myself, emerging designers, emerging students in design can see themselves in this book. I think we’re only a sampling. We’re not everyone. And we can only share our perspectives from our own backgrounds and what we have accomplished and done. But I think that my ultimate hope is for there to be visibility, and to see it as a pathway, to see it as … like if you’re interested in teaching, you’re interested in design, and you’re a person of color. And specifically, you’re Black, brown, or Latinx. It’s just a sampling of folks who are doing it, and working through their own design practice, and navigating challenges that are coming up. And also to validate any other educators who are experiencing similar challenges or successes. And to recognize that we are a bigger community than we realize. And we’re only a step away from each other in some way. I think that that’s something that I’ve learned a lot about.

Kelly Walters:
And in this book, many of the people that I’ve interviewed have become such good friends now. And I’m collaborating with them on multiple projects. And I just think to feel connected to each other has really been life-changing for me in the last year. Because I think the project was born out of a panel presentation at the College Art Association. And I think that was literally the last and the last time that I’ve seen many of the people in this book in person. And I think for us to be together in that space was life-changing for me. I’m sure it was for others just to think about a panel that reflects us, talks about our experiences. It feels like it can be very rare. And I think I’m wishing and wanting us to get to a point where we don’t feel like we have to feel rare. That there’s many of us here. And there’s just a bunch of us in different places.

Maurice Cherry:
I have to say one thing that has been an interesting kind of, I don’t want to say improvement, I’d say an interesting development from the last year or so is just how many of these types of events, or panels, or things like this have happened where you’re starting to see more Black designers come together. Whether it’s Black design educators or just regular design practitioners, etc. That are kind of outside of what we may have seen prior to this in terms of other types of events or conferences. Like for example, The State of Black Design that happened last year. You were a part of a Where are the black designers? from Mitzi Okou. These sorts of events didn’t really happen before. And now, it’s so exciting to see these happen now. And that people are still continuing to work together. And even to your case, writing books. You’re now contributing to the corpus of design history by putting out a book that people can then go and reference years and years down the line.

Kelly Walters:
Yeah. I mean, I think that’s the really exciting part that as I’ve met more designers, as I’ve met more design educators. And I’ve been trying to kind of navigate within my own practice what the importance of a book like this can be. There’s so much power in it, and it’s such a privilege to be able to do so. And learning even how to do this process, and learning what it means to kind of work with a publisher. And all of that, sometimes unknown, inaccessible, out of reach opportunities. And I think that it’s so important that as we learn is this how it works? How are we sharing that back out to the folks that we might be working with that may not know it as much about that process? So I think to contribute to the design field in this way is an honor. It’s a privilege. I’m excited to do so. And I’m also really just thankful for everyone in the book. Because to be open and share their stories also can be a very vulnerable position to put yourself in. And I’m mindful of protecting their stories, and making sure that they feel like they’re best represented. So I’m so just thankful for their contributions and participating, because it wouldn’t have come together without their stories.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you are an artist, you’re a designer, you’re an educator in academia. How do you balance all of that? Do you find that there are opposition at times? How do you make it all work?

Kelly Walters:
You see it as a kind of rotating hats. I think sometimes, the focus is on one thing more than the other during the year. Teaching fall and spring semester is really a primary focus. And then sometimes in the summer, what’s really nice is there’s a bit more expanse of time to work on more self-driven projects or other kind of commissioned works and things like that. Commissioned work happens I think year-round. So it happens even as I’m teaching, and collaborations with different people as well.

Kelly Walters:
So I think that it can be a lot at times. But I also, as I’ve gotten older, kind of navigating what it means to kind of rotate the focus and figure out what takes precedent right now. And how can I sort of not overtax myself, but create a balance such that things can rotate? And I think by seeing things rotate, I’m less scared that I’m never going to get back to X, Y, or Z? Or I won’t be able to do that kind of work or that kind of work. I think I’ve been more interested in telling myself that things can shift and rotate, and you don’t have to do everything at once. And I think that that has been really freeing for me. And it also just allows for a flexibility in yourself, and your life, and all the things that you want to try. There’s an opportunity to kind of space it out. Because what’s always important to sort of be aware of too is not trying to do too much where other things suffer, or you’re diluting the power of what it could be, because you just don’t have the bandwidth.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is the best thing about the work that you do?

Kelly Walters:
The best thing that I like is when I’m connecting, and meeting, and bringing people together. I think that that to me, of all the various projects, and specifically all the different design projects where I’m meeting people or people are meeting each other. To me, that’s the most important thing and the most exciting thing. The most beautiful thing. I’m just thinking vividly of times when they’re like, “You’re over there? I didn’t know you were there.” Being able to kind of help facilitate that is exciting.

Maurice Cherry:
If you hadn’t gotten into design, or I would say even if you hadn’t gotten into education, what do you think you would be doing?

Kelly Walters:
I would be talking about race probably still. Whether, I mean in fairness in college, I was a dual major. So I studied graphic design in the art program, and I also was a communication sciences major. So if I wasn’t doing design, I feel like I would still be facilitating conversations around topics of race and representation. I may not have been a designer I guess. But I think I would probably be still very focused and interested in these topics if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you feel creatively satisfied?

Kelly Walters:
I think there’s always more that can be learned or done. And I think what I’m learning is that sometimes, it’s okay not to have it all immediately. Does that leave you wanting more, wanting to try more? Perhaps. But I think I’m okay with that. I think I’m okay with not fully always having everything, and working towards more. Working for something else. Because I feel like it creates a drive and makes it so that you’re not complacent and staying in place. So I think it’s okay that I’m not always satisfied, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. Where do you kind of see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work would you love to be doing?

Kelly Walters:
I feel like in the next five years, I would love to work towards other book projects. I would love to collaborate with other designers. Some of which is happening right now. I want to keep learning. I want to keep growing. There’s so much that I still don’t know. I want to continue to find ways to connect with folks or bring people together. I know that seems really simplistic, but I think it can be … it’s actually more challenging. And to do it successfully can be an art. I’m learning what it means to be able to do that and to kind of work with folks passionate, interested, and excited about all aspects of design. And I just want to continue to be inspired by those that are doing really interesting work right now and celebrate what they’re doing just as much as I’m trying to work towards things in my own practice.

Maurice Cherry:
And just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

Kelly Walters:
You can find my work on Bright Polka Dot. And that is if you’re searching online, you’ll find it in the browser. And then on Instagram and Twitter, I’m also @brightpolkadot. So you can find me there as well.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well Kelly Walters, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for really talking about the focus behind your work. I’m excited to read the new book. Actually [Wes 00:50:48] sent me a copy, so I’m excited to kind of really get into it. But for those that are listening, we’ll put a link to it in the show notes so people can check it out. But no, I really like the approach that you have to your work. And I hope that people kind of feel empowered and inspired from hearing your story. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Kelly Walters:
Thank you so much for having me.

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