A Designer for the People
Melody (Yu-Hsuan) Hsu is a 2021 Summer Fellow with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, directly collaborating with the Office of Recovery Services to generate momentum for creativity and community. In the past weeks, she’s specifically focused on bringing storytelling and art-making experiences into the Engagement Center through co-creative methods.
I am an international student, a multidisciplinary artist, and — as of the last 5 years — a proud Bostonian. At the end of 2020, I decided to transition from a designer for entertainment to a designer for the people, as I believe that the soul of art and design is the human experience, and the heart is service.
I’ve spent the past 7 weeks conceptualizing, designing, and executing a community event that goes hand in hand with the upcoming anniversary of the Engagement Center (EC). As I develop my civic identity, my experiences engaging with the guests and staff humble me. I’ve learned so much, and my heart is full. So, what does it really take to be a designer for the people?
You’ll never know until you admit that you don’t know.
At first, I didn’t think I could do it. As an emerging creative just stepping out of my Master’s program, I felt too young, too inexperienced. I took a deep-dive from a lighthearted group of artists who paint murals for community centers straight into engaging with the most vulnerable population of our city. To be honest, I was scared. But that was what kept me authentic — that fear taught me how to listen.
It’s not about you — but it is.
Part of this experience has also been about navigating the blurred lines of setting boundaries and taking things personally. Since the pandemic began, the Engagement Center became a place that accommodated survival, rather than a community. It was hard for me to articulate my value as an artist in a space where people were fighting to survive every day. But if you ask any staff, they’ll tell you that showing up matters. Being present matters. So instead of questioning whether my art supplies and I can belong, I ask myself how can I show up today? I recognize that I am engaging in my own storytelling of the narratives that surround the Engagement Center. Every time I leave the EC, I take with me the stories of its people. Now I am here to tell those stories.
Make room for your feelings.
In civic work, it’s easy to feel at times that the world is too big, and we are too small. If you ask me what the hardest thing about this fellowship is, I’ll tell you that it isn’t navigating bureaucracy, nor is it trying to coordinate a 45-minute meeting across 3 different offices. It’s thinking about the EC when I’m not there. When the weather gets too hot or too wet, I think about the guests. Before I go to bed at night, I think about the guests. As I learn their names, their faces, and their stories, I will never be able to not think about them. But that doesn’t drain me — it motivates me. This project serves as a reminder that there is room in the city of Boston for more stories, more love, and more humanity. And it’s our job as the people of Boston to find it and fill it.
As I conclude my blog, I urge you — don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Hold space for yourself and all the intricacies embedded in the emotions that make you a better designer, advocate, and human.
Melody is an international student from Taiwan, but also now a proud Bostonian. From a BFA in Theatre Design and Technology to a MA in Media Design from Emerson College — she spent the year 2020 transitioning from a designer for entertainment to a designer for the people. As a multidisciplinary creator, Melody is soulfully inspired by impressionism and modernism. Fascinated by the relationship between scientific research and the human experience, she looks forward to continuing to grow into the empathetic and impactful designer that she knows herself to be.
About the Fellowship:
The New Urban Mechanics Summer Fellowship is designed for entrepreneurial students and professionals interested in working in public service. During this highly selective eight-week program, summer fellows work as a team and on their own projects, generating and implementing creative and thoughtful new prototypes to benefit the City of Boston.