Creative Reaction Lab, founded by Antionette Carroll, uses the artistic process to educate, train and challenge youth to co-create solutions with Black and Latinx populations to design healthy and racially equitable communities. One of their programs, Design to Better [Our Community] Summer Academy launched this summer in the Centene Center for the Arts in partnership with the Arts and Education Council (A&E). This iteration marks the first time Design to Better [Our Community] has been held as a Summer Academy. Final presentations will take place July 18 in the Atrium of the Centene Center for the Arts from 4-9 p.m.

In 2017, Creative Reaction Lab was named an inaugural winner of A&E's stARTup Competition, a partnership with the PNC Foundation. We caught up with Carroll to hear about her year after winning the stARTup Competition and what is ahead for Creative Reaction Lab. 

How did winning the 2017 stARTup Competition shape the growth of Creative Reaction Lab?

It was a pivotal moment for us because it  gave us credibility and validated what we were doing. [A&E was] the first one that said we believe in what you’re doing, especially locally. A&E understood that design can be more than just the posters that we create, the logos or the fashion that we have, but design is also a way of problem-solving in society. It’s inspirational that A&E was able to see that early on.

Tell me more about the Design to Better [Our Community] Summer Academy. 

Our program is unique. It’s not just how do we create more civically engaged leaders. It's how do we acknowledge the power that we all have in our communities and understanding that we are actually designing the fabric of our communities and others have designed it as well. In many cases, the decision makers were outside of the communities they were impacting, particularly historically under-represented and under-supported communities. So for us, it was [asking] how do we work with Black and Latinx youth that are in close proximity to many of the challenges that plague the public health of their cultures and St.Louis?

The students are going through activities thinking about the role of race. They created six-word race sentences to define themselves. They have been developing personal narratives not only on who they are but what their plan is for the future. They are receiving guidance from arts and activism leaders.

We are also having individuals in government, education, media and health sectors speak to our students because we want them to understand it is not just the arts but it's intersectional. You can be an equity designer, which is what we're trying to get them to lead this movement on, in one of those sectors. The end product on July 18, their interventions, will be directly related to one of those areas of focus.

This week they’re going to be on the ground in Grand Center conducting research and asking community members what they would like to see changed in St. Louis. After taking that data they’re going to distill it down to one problem and develop an intervention to address that one problem. On July 18 they’re going to present their ideas and their prototypes around that one problem in the community.

At A&E, we talk about the arts' power to create a ripple effect of positive change. How have you seen this in action?

When I think about the ripple effects of the arts I think about the Katherine Dunham Fellowship, where I was the inaugural fellow. [A&E] is not only supporting emerging talent but now has put into place more opportunities for African-Americans to get into arts administration.

Also, being in this space and learning from other arts administrators. We're able to problem solve and bounce ideas off each other, which you don’t generally have when you’re in your own office space, as opposed to an incubator.

To keep art happening throughout the St. Louis region, support programs like the stARTup Competition with a gift to A&E today.

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For more information about Creative Reaction Lab, visit creativereactionlab.com