Yesterday marked the final day of Dining by Design 2019. For DIFFA—the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS—Dining by Design is the most visible fundraiser of the year, drawing thousands from its co-location with the AD Design Show. Accomplished interior designers join forces with industry-leading brands to create stunning dining vignettes that host five days of benefits, fundraisers, and visits by the general public. Several of this year's participating designers used their installations to de-stigmatize and increase the visibility of communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS.
For Adam Rolston and Drew Stuart, partners at INC Architecture & Design, this meant acknowledging the the LGBTQIA+ community through an abstract expressionist interpretation of the Pride flag's rainbow.
"Our work is always about this more immersive and perhaps cerebral take on space and visual identity," explained Stuart, who is the field director at INC. "Within that cerebral conceit, what kind of environment do we then posit to people? There's this dialogue we’ve been having around this idea of exuberance and, honestly, inclusiveness and gayness. You know, why can’t it be celebrated by everyone?"
"Picking up on the tropes of abstract expressionism, one of the things that art critics talk about is the way that the artist put his or her emotions and physical body into the painting," added Rolston, INC's managing and creative director. "You could see the action of the artist in the painting. So that exuberance and joy was one of the things that we wanted to capture too."
For Rolston, participating in Dining by Design with DIFFA hits close to home. "As a gay guy that came out in the midst of the AIDS crisis, [I] was part of Act Up from its very beginning. Act Up was sort of the progenitor of all of these organizations like DIFFA and GMHC," he said. "Because of the roots of DIFFA, that three-dimensional painting that is based on the rainbow flag felt super appropriate."
The installation of IA Interior Architects also put the LGBTQIA+ community at the forefront of visibility. The vignette—while vibrantly colorful—evokes solemnity. Half of the 11'x11' booth symbolizes retrospect through a composite of public health awareness posters from the height of the AIDS crisis.
"We knew that we wanted to connect back to the mission of DIFFA. We realized that it’s been 35 years since the founding of DIFFA, and also the identification of the AIDS retrovirus," said Steven South, who is a senior designer at the New York office of IA Interior Architects and worked on the firm's installation.
"We wanted to make sure that our table concept was about bringing awareness to the topic, much more than using the opportunity to design a stereotypically 'pretty' booth. So many communities have experienced such loss and pain over the past 35 years. There is a shared consciousness and memory that should and will inspire us to keep moving forward towards a cure."
Several of the interior design and architecture professionals in the Black Artists + Designers Guild came together for the group's inaugural Dining by Design installation. The vignette is built around a massive print from Philadelphia-based artist Shawn Theodore, titled To Govern or to Love.
"Her eyes confront and hold the gaze of her viewer. Her unapologetic gaze means that she cannot be ignored, nor does it permit an opportunity for shame through stigma," said lead designer Leyden Lewis, explaining what compelled the group to select Theodore's work for the installation.
"We wanted to connect our booth visually, poetically and aesthetically to the reality of the data that in the south, Black women accounted for 71% of women living with diagnosed HIV," continued Lewis. "The group is the Black Artists and Designers Guild. We wanted to do something meaningful to extend the love we're cultivating [here] to another community."
Walker Ridge Construction and Development was another first-time participant in Dining by Design. Carlos Maldonado, Walker Ridge's director of business development and sustainable initiatives was the design lead for the installation. He commissioned muralist Dale Williams to create Puerto Rico se Levanta, or, Puerto Rico Rises Up—an eye-catching mural that offers a glimpse into Puerto Rico's rebuilding process in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
"Dale's artwork resonates with Puerto Rico's problem of having one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the U.S," explained Maldonado. "It also express the debt crisis, poor infrastructure, and unavailability of resources to fight the epidemic, or at least have preventative care around the island. The aftermath of the storm has left many senior residents living with HIV vulnerable and even homeless."
Improving healthcare access for those living with HIV is particularly important to Maldonado, who lives with undetectable HIV, and his teammates. "Taking care of myself and others is my responsibility. I wish for everyone living with HIV to reach undetectable [status] and have the courage to live life as normally as possible."
Read full Dining by Design coverage for even more stunning vignettes at the 2019 installation.