Malene Barnett on How the Design Industry can Create Real Change


Over the past week, it has been truly remarkable to see many around the world use their voices to push for justice in the cases of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and unfortunately the many other precious black lives lost before them. While the protests have focused more on the current events, the need for systematic change across all communities and industries has been the true call to action. And that includes the design community. It is time for us all to listen, learn and come together to make positive change by creating more opportunity for Black artists, architects, designers and manufacturers.

In 2018 New York based artist and activist Malene Barnett along with a powerful collective of creative colleagues started Black Artists + Designers Guild—an organization that was formed in 2018 to combat the lack of representation of Black talent and culture in the design industry by representing a curated collective of independent Black artists, makers, and designers. Here, she shares how the design industry can use this moment in time to become more inclusive and empower Black entrepreneurs.

Artist Malene Barnett
Adire II by Malene Barnett

“Since the beginning of my design career, I have been troubled by the lack of black representation in the industry. It is a field that has not served Black designers or our culture, and validates whiteness. The surface of the design industry is too focused on creating fashionable spaces for a select few. This is inherently problematic because not all people look or live the same, but this restrictive industry has historically showcased some while excluding others. 

The Dream Village Bus by Kiyonda Powell
Designer Kiyonda Powell

In response to this phenomena, I decided to create an organization to be part of the solution and in 2018, I founded Black Artists + Design Guild along with esteemed colleagues Leyden Lewis, Keita Turner, Lisa Hunt, Beth Diana Smith, Joy Moyler, Jomo Tariku, Kesha Franklin, Rayman Boozer and Sheila Bridges. I am proud of what BADG has accomplished in showcasing the talents of black artists and designers with the intention to create a more inclusive design culture. Currently at BADG, we are working to create a pledge and an anti-racist toolkit. This will be available for those in the industry who are willing to do the work, including personal reflection, and through actively fixing systemic racism in corporations, the media, brand partnerships, and even in conversations around the black experience. 

Designer Leyden Lewis
A residence in Prospect Park by Leyden Lewis

In our current socio-political situation, the best way for individuals to show support for the black community is to encourage and promote black businesses.  Ideally, black entrepreneurs would live in a society that supports all businesses, but because black enterprise has historically received less funding, less opportunity, less support we have had to look to our community to grow our businesses. It is more important now than ever for one and all to support black owned businesses to balance out the inequality in this country. In turn, this will strengthen blacks in America and lead us forward from a historical order that is structured to hold us back.

Ceramic work by Hadiya Williams
Artist and Creative Director Hadiya Williams

The death of George Floyd is a devastating display of inequalities in this country. However, our determination and action can and will make a more equitable future. Despite obstacles, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and thriving in the black community. I am inspired every day by the 80 designers and artists who are a part of BADG and I look forward to seeing this list grow.

Designer Nina Cooke of Studio Cooke John
A loft in Chelsea by Studio Cooke John

One of the ways to start creating equity is to advocate for black entrepreneurship. If you are seeking ways to begin supporting our community or working with us, BADG provides direct access to our members who are independent Black artists, makers, and designers. Become involved in our latest virtual venture: BADG Concept House.” – Malene Barnett

Artist Lisa Hunt
Rounds Negative Canvas I by Lisa Hunt

For more information on the registered 501 (C) 3 NON PROFIT or to donate, please visit:

More news: