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Outside Voice S2: Two creatives who design physical spaces with representation in mind

Outside Voice is an annotated playlist series from Spotify Advertising celebrating and amplifying people of color in the global creative industry. Each month, leading creatives from underrepresented communities share original playlists—featuring their favorite music alongside spoken-word annotations with personal stories and words of wisdom.

If you’ve ever been to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., celebrating its fifth anniversary this September, then you understand the power and possibility of physical spaces as a medium for storytelling. Both of this month’s curators for Outside Voice worked on this remarkable museum, alongside many other purposeful projects. We’re excited to share these playlists from Aki Carpenter and Jonathan Jackson: two U.S. creatives who use design to create narrative environments celebrating underrepresented voices.

Aki Carpenter is the Principal and Director of Social Projects at Ralph Appelbaum Associates. In addition to her work as a creative director on the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, she’s now leading design for the Obama Presidential Center Museum in Chicago. Carpenter is also the co-founder of BIPOC Directors Collective, an organization that seeks to unify and strengthen directors of color to create systemic changes in the industry.

In her annotations, Carpenter shares her take on the role of museums and public spaces in today’s landscape. “Much of my work seeks to tell some of the most important stories of history and leadership, [often addressing] topics of social justice, activism, and community,” she says. “I think of my role as kind of a guest conductor around these conversations, ensuring that we bring together the right voices for those stories—but also ensuring that the creative process has a grassroots nature in terms of its development.”

Carpenter, whose mother is Japanese, also shares details about her latest work on projects tied to the recent wave of AAPI violence, such as the Japanese American National Museum. “We want to hit the issues head-on and make sure that the future visitors are really thinking about their role in these conversations,” she says.

Jonathan Jackson is a spatial designer and partner at WSDIA, which he founded in 2004. Before that, he worked for architects Studio Archea in Italy, Archi-Tectonics and Lindy Roy in NYC. He served two years on the AIGA/NY board of directors and as visiting critic at various universities. In addition to their work on the NMAAHC, Jackson’s team recently created a show called Men of Change, a traveling Smithsonian exhibit about 25 African-American men who changed American history. The show will visit 10 different museums over the course of three years.

In his playlist, Jackson talks about the weight of taking on this type of big-picture, narrative-shaping work. “It's a huge responsibility for us as designers to learn as much as we can about the story and act as a conduit to bring these stories to life. It's really upon us to do right by the people who have been marginalized, who have been neglected.”

Jackson also discusses how to balance the wide range of projects that his team tackles. “We really try to take on as much diverse work as possible. Within that, yes, we get to work with the Nikes and the Googles and what have you. But we also get to work on projects that have deeper meaning, that tell stories of marginalized communities that don't have as loud of a voice as they could— and a lot of our work tries to accentuate their stories, bring them to the forefront.”

Along with their words of wisdom, Carpenter and Jackson both share top-notch playlists featuring a wide variety of hip-hop, R&B, dance, and more, featuring emerging artists like Nao, Yuno, Bakar, and ROSALÍA alongside classic icons. We hope you enjoy listening to these stories and songs, and that you’re inspired to think about the power of purposeful design.

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