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OCAD U Dean Dori Tunstall advising on Toronto’s pandemic recovery

Dori Tunstall
Elizabeth Dori Tunstall, Dean, Faculty of Design, OCAD University; photo by Ismil Waterman.

As the City of Toronto considers how to survive and thrive in a climate of ongoing pandemic outbreaks and significant economic decline, it is seeking expert advice from a design authority at OCAD University.

Elizabeth Dori Tunstall, Dean of OCAD U’s Faculty of Design, has been appointed to the municipal government’s new Economic and Culture Recovery Advisory Group.

Part of Mayor John Tory’s Economic Support and Recovery Task Force, the group consists of 18 city leaders from a variety of sectors and communities who will make suggestions for how local businesses and cultural institutions can rebuild and innovate in the disruptive age of COVID-19.

Drawing on her extensive experience as a design anthropologist, educator and advocate, Tunstall will address how design principles and practices can help cultural institutions adapt their operations in safe and effective ways.

“We have to think of new ways to bring people together safely, but with a sense of humanity,” Tunstall says. “What are the business models to socially and financially support our cultural industries and practices, when the original model is based on face-to-face interaction?” 

Tunstall has served as the Dean of Design at OCAD U since 2016, and has been probing the value of design in organizing and optimizing human society for much longer. Her design practice and research are informed by her belief that design can help to advance equality, democracy, fairness and human connection.

Among her key projects are the Black Youth Design Initiative, which is an intergenerational platform to strengthen within Black communities the design capacity to Imagine, Make, and Connect as a guard against anti-Black racism.

The advisory group launched on June 24 with an initial meeting, where Tunstall says the members were encouraged to take a “blue sky” approach to reimagining how the city can function.

The members will meet three more times in July, August and September before preparing a final report for Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson, who chairs the Economic and Community Development Committee.

Tunstall is serving with representatives from sectors or industries such as art and design, academia, finance, health care, the law and the trades. The group also includes grassroots community organizations such as the Parkdale Centre for Innovation, the Centre for Young Black Professionals and the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective. Tunstall hopes to demonstrate how art and design are vital to our economy and society.

“There is a lot of talk right now about essential workers, and what I want to show is how artists and designers are also essential to sustaining our way of life,” Tunstall says. “The creative sector generates much revenue because people understand that we don’t just want to live, we also want to flourish.”

Having worked in academia for 15 years, Tunstall will also share experiences and insights that can be instructive for helping higher education institutions endure this tumultuous period.

As a Black woman—and the first Black dean of a faculty of design anywhere—who has led efforts to support Black designers and artists, Tunstall is also keen to ensure that as Toronto remakes itself, it becomes a more inclusive place for its Black, Indigenous and racialized citizens.

She will solicit input from the OCAD U community, including from faculty and students in the Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation, which prioritizes people-centred and decolonizing design for achieving business success and positive social change. They will be charged with working with intersectional BIPOC youth to help them document and draw new futures for Toronto.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to engage the brilliance of faculty, students and the wider OCAD U community to help young people envision the future of Toronto,” she says. “We have an opportunity to redesign the city in a way that is more sustainable and equitable, which are values that are important to a flourishing future.”