Festival Interview

Tsilli Pines Explains Design Week Portland

Design Week Co-Founder and Director, Tsilli Pines Explains the Scattered Development of a Burgeoning Festival.

The story of Design Week Portland is not one of consistency. It has changed months, almost skipped years, and never really had a central organization in the beginning. That way of working is something I really appreciate. The innocence of creativity is far more powerful than any budget you could put together. In 2016, it seems they have finally established a major presence.

I reached out to festival director Tsilli Pines to clarify some inconsistencies, such as a missing year from the Tumblr page. Her explanation rapidly evolved into a solid interview. So here it is, the skinny on Design Week Portland from a Co-Founder. My questions are highlighted in white over black.

Who all formed the core founding team behind DWP?

In 2012, there was a rising tide of independent design events popping up in Portland. A bunch of us were organizing monthly or quarterly programs, and we saw that we could make more of an impact by banding together. I was running CreativeMornings, Eric Hillerns was running Design Speaks at the time, Kate Bingaman Burt had a whole host of programs going on at PSU, Yvonne Perez Emerson had started up WeMake, Brad Smith was well seasoned with WebVisions, and there were a host of other core folks involved.

We had no idea what we were getting into. It seemed like all we needed to do was point all of the efforts we were already making at a single week, and — presto! — we’d have a design festival. In the span of just 5 months, about a dozen of us pulled the whole thing together. We got a bit nervous that we didn’t have enough going on, so we enlisted all the people we knew to put on an event or a workshop.

Then we were still nervous, so we conceived of the Open House component, where spaces could participate just by opening their doors. We had no infrastructure and no central entity — we were just a collective of folks pitching in and making something awesome. There were over 100 things going on that first year.

What year? What is 2012 or 2014? Was there a 2013?

After our start in 2012, we built some infrastructure under the festival and scaled it based on the independent model in 2013. In 2014, we introduced our Headquarters in Pioneer Courthouse Square. At that point, we decided to move the festival from the fall to the spring, which is why we had a small pop-up in 2015 as a stop-gap for the full rollout this spring.

Was it always more than one week? Or was it ever less than one week?

It was always exactly a week, until this year when we added the Main Stage, an additional 2 days of core programming at the top of the festival.

Has the mission and philosophy always been about what it is now, or was there a reshuffle in 2013? 

Our mission has stayed pretty consistent: To increase appreciation and awareness about design and its far-reaching effects on matters of cultural and social relevance, including community development, education systems, and the economy.

What changed in 2013 was the realization that we needed to have some core programming at the center of the diverse programs being instigated around the city with our event partners. That’s why we planted our feet in downtown with HQ, and this year, we’re extending our central program with the Main Stage.

Is there anything coming that we should know about?

We’re launching a digital journal in July, where we’ll release a talk from the Main Stage each month and pair it with an original, commissioned think piece to form an issue around a theme. Hanging our hat on core content is the next step in giving our festival a center, and helping to elevate some of the ideas that are emerging from the festival in a central pipeline. It will also help to keep the conversation going between festivals.

Does the digital journal provide the entire main stage program to the public at no cost?

The journal will provide access to the 12 core talks, one by one, in monthly issues. The Main Stage encompassed more than just those talks, but the most robust content will be available, yes.

The weather has been fantastic this week, do you think that is an omen that you’ve finally found the right month to hold DWP?

Clearly! We had the same kind of weather last time we mounted the festival in October 2014, so it does feel like we haven’t skipped a beat.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

Have anything to say?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.