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Detroit to be celebrated at international design festival in Saint-Étienne, France

"The Mothership," designed by Akoaki, at the ONE Mile Project

Having stolen away for a fifteen minute phone call from Saint-Étienne, France, Anya Sirota says she's glad for a brief respite from the noise that accompanies the preliminary stages of the Saint-Étienne Design Biennale. A lot of work goes into setting up the a month-long international design festival that welcomed more than 250,000 visitors last year.

The City of Detroit has been named Guest of Honor for the festival, which has invited three Detroit-based design groups to showcase their works and their city to international audiences. Detroit design groups Creative Many, Detroit Creative Corridor Center, and Akoaki have each brought their installations, ideas, and people to the festival, which takes place March 9 through April 9.

Detroit was made Guest of Honor as a result of it being named the first and only American UNESCO Creative City of Design in 2015.

"It's a huge honor for us," says Sirota, a principal at the architecture and design firm Akoaki and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. "So much of what we're doing has been off the radar. It's not institutional work, it's in local fields and garages."

The Akoaki team works in the city's North End. And not only are they bringing the installations they've created throughout the neighborhood, they're bringing part of the neighborhood itself. Nearly 30 participants in the installations, from local builders to musicians, are traveling to take part in the festival.

Fundraising efforts as well as help from organizations like the Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation have made it possible for so many to travel to Saint-Étienne. It's been no small feat. For a number of the travelers, the trip marks the first time that they've received passports or set foot on a plane, says Sirota.

"There are lots of times where 'experts' descend into Detroit, but we wanted to turn to the experts in the neighborhoods."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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