April 4, 2010

Studio Set & Drift’s Designing and Curating of Interactive Experiences

Space of event Reinventing the Wheel, 2008

With a name that refers to the speed and direction of the current under a sailing ship, studio Set & Drift makes interactive experiences through conceptual events, exhibitions, and collaborations. These events gather people to explore the “many curious expressions of art and design”. Since 2008, the studio’s founders Stacy and Sean Kelley continue to nurture a diverse network of international artists, designers and craftspeople. They share their thoughts about navigating and finding inspiration in unchartered cultural waters.

How did you arrive at the idea of Set & Drift?
As creative professionals experiencing various aspects of art/design/culture, we saw the crossover and intriguing exchange that can occur among the various disciplines. With so much of our time dedicated to professional design and event planning, we decided to use these skills to showcase the work of the creatives around us. The idea is to forge exhibitions and collaborations that bring art and design into the audience’s everyday experience in an unexpected way, through nontraditional formats and venues. This is what drives us—we feel these experiences spark conversations that inspire cultural innovation.

How did you arrive at the name of Set & Drift?
“Set and Drift” are actually nautical terms for the speed and direction of the current under a sailing ship. For us it represents navigating the cultural landscape and inviting the unforeseen to carry us to sought-after, uncharted territories. With collaborative, experiential projects and exhibitions, it’s always surprising to see where these projects arise, how everyone comes together, and where the project takes us.

Plainly speaking, what is Set & Drift?

Set & Drift is a creative studio that specializes in experience design for social innovation. In “designing experiences”, we create collaborative projects, exhibitions, and events that showcase multi-discipline art and design.

Prints by Josh Higgins at event Conspire, 2009; Photo by Holiday Matinee

From Set & Drift’s mission and history, you “curate
interactive experiences through conceptual events,
exhibitions, and collaborations.” What are these experiences
like and what does curating mean to you?

A major aspect of curating for us is creating the actual scenarios to showcase art and design—identifying opportunities to bring creatives together in a way that introduces an unexpected experience to the audience. For example, with CONSPIRE we acquired 6 rooms of a 1920’s hotel turned apartment building that were not yet occupied. We decided to pair one artist with one musician in each room for a one-night event that would open the building up to the public. We invited artists and musicians to participate and then let them at it. The idea was to forge a sense of community, and bring art and music to a personal scale, showing the opportunities that arise from interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration. It was rewarding to see how this format involved the audience and shifted perspectives on how creative work can be experienced by a diverse audience.

What is the most rewarding part of owning
and managing Set & Drift?

It is rewarding to meet creatives and collaborate. It’s great to be involved in the creative community in San Diego and reach out to creatives and audiences nationally and abroad, to see how all of the projects and approaches are evolving. We are passionate about using our resources to find unexpected ways to unite creatives and afford them opportunities to experiment and share their vision.

Live painting by Artist Tocayo at event Reinventing the Wheel, 2008

Was there a part of keeping the business that was
particularly trying? And how did you deal with it?

It is always a challenge to acquire the resources for the projects we dream up. It’s surprising though how much can be accomplished by giving those involved ownership so we can pool resources and create bigger and better communal opportunities. We investigate opportunities for seed funding, and we always evaluate opportunities in the community to form mutually beneficial partnerships. We have been fortunate to receive support from organizations such as Miriello Grafico, Breadtruck Films, LWP Group, Fat Tire, and so many other generous sponsors.

How do you stay creative? Do you draw? Or keep a journal?
We’re inspired by visits to thrift stores and 99 cent stores, a trip across the border to Mexico, junk yards, farms. We’re constantly searching through our library of vintage books and films, and we keep up with the projects of international artists, designers, and collectives.

What are some of your sources of inspiration?
We find inspiration in the work we see at museums, galleries, and studios, as well as projects that focus on collaboration, the unexpected, and design for social innovation. Some of our local favorites are New Children’s Museum, Merry Karnowsky Gallery, mi-workshop, Subtext Gallery, Quint Gallery, Igloo, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Lux Art Institute. We like to keep up with the projects of Toxico Cultura, Fecal Face, Holiday Matinee, and Sezio. We have contributed to projects such as a screening of Gary Hustwit’s Objectified and The Haiti Poster Project—these are creative projects with formats that interest us.

Urban project The Farm Proper

What’s your advice to people who aspire to start and
own a creative business like Set & Drift?

Collaborating with others is rewarding—you receive back what you contribute. Connect with other creatives and give ownership to those you trust—it fuels the exchange of ideas and techniques and allows for shared resources and cross-promotion. Also, seek support from the community—form mutually beneficial partnerships and keep an eye on unused venues, opportunities for shared equipment and spaces. Host workshops and produce events to encourage collaborative networking; we believe a stronger creative community benefits everyone.

Who should come and experience events by Set & Drift?
Plainly speaking, everyone.

For those who can’t attend your events, what’s the best way
to find out about what’s happening at Set & Drift?

Visit SetAndDrift.org and follow if you’d like at Twitter and Facebook. We have a book project in the works—a goal of ours is to create formats like this that can be accessible to a wider audience. We also strive to create projects that are in a sense replicable, so we hope our fellow creatives wherever they may be can find inspiration in our work and bring it to their own communities, inspiring a domino effect of social innovation.

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All photographs courtesy of Set & Drift.

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Read more from Design Feast Series of Interviews
with people who love making things.