William Drenttel | Projects

Announcing Project M at Winterhouse

We are pleased to announce that Project M at Winterhouse will take place August 15-30, 2009. Twelve select individuals will get to participate in a unique collaborative enterprise to create a single design project of lasting value in a rural community. This project is sponsored by William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand of Winterhouse, with the active participation of John Bielenberg, the founder of Project M. Design Observer will provide an interesting array of visiting critics (including Michael Bierut, Allan Chochinov, Julie Lasky, Alice Twemlow, Lorraine Wild, and more) and will publish the project. Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation will provide input and serve as an advisor. Application deadline is June 15 with notification of selected participants by June 30.

Alissa Walker twittered this as a "design slumber party." Fun aside, hopefully the outcome will not only be a remarkable experience for participants, but will result in a meaningful example of design for social change. In addition to newly-minted grads, we're hoping a number of leading companies and studios will see this as a chance to support their best and brightest, allowing a couple of weeks for a paid social change experience. And while such projects typically attract only young people, we are open to people with meaningful life experience.

Comments [34]

Gosh - I wanna go to this!
Ricky Salsberry

weren't you recipients of a million dollars or was it a million and a half for this kind of "social" "design" "work"? now, you are asking people to do something and to have to fork over their time as well as a 1,500 bucks in this recession? so that these "critics" get paid or get a free ride? forget that. people should keep the bread and go plant some trees and interact in their own community instead.
Noah G

Noah, as one of the critics participating in this event, I'm neither getting paid nor expecting a "free ride."

That said, I applaud your suggested alternative of planting trees and encourage you to do exactly that, or whatever action you feel would benefit your community the most.
Michael Bierut

Looks like fun, but a long expensive international flight away, let alone 1500K, so yeah, maybe not.
Mark D

Noah, I want to answer you directly. Your comment is full of attitude and snipe. You should be ashamed of yourself for making accusations and innuendo where none are deserved. If you want to ask about the finances of Project M @ Winterhouse, why don't you simply ask.

The Rockefeller grant to Winterhouse is for very specific programs. They are publicly described here: http://www.winterhouse.com/institute/index.html. These funds cannot be used for separate programs. To use such funds for Project M would be a breach of our agreement with the Rockefeller Foundation.

Project M is a well established project, run over a number of years. Two week projects cost $1500 and four week projects cost $2500. To my knowledge, no one has ever made any money off this program. We are duplicating the project at Winterhouse this August with the collaboration of John Bielenberg. To date, none of us have talked about anyone making money on the project. This is simply what it seems to cost, assuming funds are available to support the implementation of the project after expenses.
William Drenttel

Bill and Jessica, this is exciting news! I have been a fan of Project M but it is always far away, now it is little less than an hour away.

Am I correct in remembering that the project that the team assembled does is decided together once everyone gets there, and then Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation would be there to advise on the local rural community? So you guys don't know what the project is yet, right?
Ethan Bodnar

This sounds amazing! If you get to attend this event, have a great time for those us not able to make it.
lola d

This sounds like a wonderful project. Even the application is inspiring! Too few opportunities come along like this; I'm excited to see the results!

$1,500 for two weeks is a pretty miniscule amount considering participants are being lodged, fed, and are producing a project. Those who expect things to cost nothing will often get nothing in return.

@Ethan Bodnar
"Am I correct in remembering that the project that the team assembled does is decided together once everyone gets there, and then Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation would be there to advise on the local rural community? So you guys don't know what the project is yet, right?"

Totally correct. The team of participants scope out and determine the project. We are only here to help, and the team of guest critics only here to provide guidance. Jennifer Dowley of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation is our local resource, just to enable deep engagement.


I'm utterly dumfounded by Noah G's vitriolic comment, so feel compelled to add the the positive comments.

I'd absolutely love to be in the position to participate in this. It promises to be invigorating, inspiring, and--despite not being a school--a real learning experience. $1,500? That's really not much to pay for what's sure to be a great experience. And, you might just end up doing something that makes a difference!

I would like to suggest that something like this could use more advance notice--busy people might have a hard time engineering it into their schedules.
Rob Henning

I would wager that at least half the fee is worth just for the chance to thumb through Winterhouse's book shelves.

And while such projects typically attract only young people, we are open to people with meaningful life experience. (old?)

This line is precious because i am assuming it is not polite to call those people old? Where does youth end and meaningful life experience begin? An honest question.

Also, please define rural community.

Where does youth end and meaningful life experience begin? An honest question.

Nancy, nothing loaded in this statement except to say that we are not only looking for students. I would hope to have a great mix of ages, and experience. I would hope that some working professionals (and their firms) might view this as the perfect chance to enrich the lives of their employees. Someone 31 with a decade of experience would be welcome, as would someone 59 with decades of experience. This is not intended to be a student experience.

Also, please define rural community.

The project is to work in our neck of the woods, the Berkshires, or northwest Connecticut. Like most of America, we have lots of issues here: declining farmlands, housing, rural poverty, educational inequality, healthcare...
William Drenttel

Thank you for the answers.

Personally I have to try not to jump to conclusions that some of these things sound as if they are patronising statements. Coming from Kentucky and southern Indiana, with which perhaps Michael is a bit more familiar, I sometimes don't understand the finer wording and mannerisms of people from the east coast or Connecticut.

Plus, being 49, forever unemployed, not able to sit still in school anymore, and forever linked into the narcisistic world of the internet, I think the world of my own solitary work in design, visual mathematics, and social inspiration. Perhaps there are other people out there like me in your woods that will help you out.

While I recognize the need to defend the program against rather rude and unconstructive comments like Noah's, I do think there are some valid concerns with the pricing of things like this. I'm sure most of us reading this blog can afford the price tag, but I do worry about those who can't and how that affects us. Probably a majority of designers come from mostly middle class backgrounds, and that this in turn means most of us think like people who grew up middle class. I have to honestly ask in certain situations "who can design better for poor or rural constituents than poor or rural designers?" It may not be true every time, but I'm guessing we rarely get a real opportunity to find out.

It's probably a bit much at this point to ask for some sort of M Project Scholarship to be set up in time for this event, but its really important as M Project develops. I fear people might read this and just think I'm asking for a scholarship to help a needy designer, but I'm actually asking for a "scholarship" for everyone involved in the program. It's not just an education for a designer who might not normally get that educational opportunity, but its certainly an educational opportunity for the other eleven designers who might never work alongside someone with different life experiences.

I know in the future I would be willing to donate 5 or 10 dollars to create a scholarship for a worthy participant. I'm guessing there probably another 150 people reading this willing to do the same.
Derrick Schultz

This sounds like a great experience. It is not often enough that graphic designers are offered such an opportunity to create something that has real, tangible value. Something that at least attempts to make positive strides forward in the world, rather that adding to the corporate visual clutter that we see everyday. It's part of the reason I love my job, and also part of the reason I nearly flip out every single day. Nonetheless, I would love to be a part of this.

I'm sure a lot of people are wondering the same thing though. "As much as I would love to, there's no way I can take 2 to 4 weeks off work and throw down a couple grand for something like this..."
Ryan Adair

This really does sound like a terrific experience. And $1500 is reasonable for housing, food and 'production of the project' .

This is a funny comparison, but two weeks of housing, meals and and a workshop or two at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck would run you a easy minimum of $2100. So this counts as a deal.

I don't have the money either but that's the world's (or my own!) fault. :)

If you want to be a part of Project M and you feel like the odds are against you (whether it's money, time, etc.), you aren't alone. Speaking as a past participant (2007), I had similar hesitations. Some of my fellow Mers had even larger obstacles to overcome. My only advice to everyone wishing they could attend is this: find a way.
Tim Belonax

That statement on


seems a lot of political mumbo jumbo, the kind of writing which wins grants but does not promise anything (as everything is tentative or in flux or whatever the term is).

It will be very interesting to see what kind of "change" can emerge from it, especially because of the price tag.
beatrice c

Though Noah could have phrased his concern as a thoughtful question, a number of comments that have followed have lead to a greater understand of and interest in the project on my part. As a person for whom the price tag is overwhelming I appreciated William's transparency, Derrick's thoughtful response questioning who might be excluded because of cost (and his suggestion of a solution), and Tim's encouragement.
Miriam Martincic

Everywhere I've been this year, whenever I've met students and young designers who've participated in earlier Project M investigations, I've noticed an amazing thing. They're at once high on the experience (philanthropy as euphoria!) and energized to dig in on the next project as soon as possible. Put simply, John Bielenberg has created a kind of radical new model for design: out of the studio, into the world, hands-on, 24x7 engagement with a level of immediacy and community and reality unparalleled in anything, frankly, I've ever seen.

This is no ordinary workshop.

And now a word about money. Yes, in this economy, everything sounds like a hurdle. (On the other hand, most of the mid-career designers I know are still paying back student loans, so what else is new?) As I understand it from speaking with John and others who've participated in Project Ms in the past, an astonishing transformation takes place when people pay for the project themselves: they decide what problem to solve, solve it, make something, invent a new way to engage with some piece of the world, and at the end of it all, they have a level of ownership that becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy.

We, the directors, critics and assorted visitors are here to guide, troubleshoot, and cook a few meals. You, the participants, run with it. How great is that?
jessica helfand

Thoughtful description of Project M at Winterhouse by Doug Powell on the Merge blog:

William Drenttel

I learned more in two weeks participating in Project M than I did in my entire four years at design school.

Ha! This is just another "jobs for the boys". Typical Winterhouse. This is Bill and Jessica patting Bill and Jessica on the back again. And again. And again. Almost as despicable as the British Parliamentry expenses scandle. Better make it work guys, you dont have long left.

Noah and beatrice are definitely onto something. The Winterhouse Institute has had ample opportunity over the years to demonstrate a commitment to social change. They have hardly done so. With such a track record, the Rockefeller grant is indeed a bit shocking. In the meantime, latching onto Project M seems like a cheap and easy way to show something while letting the participants pay for the privilege.

Dear Sheamus and "A"...

If 10% of the design community did HALF of what Bill, Jessica, John Bielenberg and the other participants of project M do for our profession we would all be in much better shape.

Full disclosure, yes, I am, proudly, a contributor to DO and stand in awe of the tireless effort they put into work that benefits all of us AND our communities.

I always find it interesting to read the criticism thrown about by folks that don't even have the temerity to sign their names. Jealousy perhaps? Another question... what do YOU do?

BTW, Sheamus, you are beginning to sound a bit like a grumpy old man... "You kids get off my lawn, Goddamn it"

Eric Baker

As a fervent supporter of Project M from the very, very beginning, and as someone who traveled to Alabama in 2007 to cover Project M for GOOD, I wanted to reiterate what an incredible opportunity that Winterhouse is enabling for designers of all backgrounds, beyond just the slumber party aspect (although that's an important part of the experience, too).

First of all, for anyone who doubts that real change can be achieved by a dozen designers working together for two weeks, just look at Project M's 2007 Buy a Meter campaign. Today, more than 90 families in Hale County who did not previously have access to clean water have been connected to the municipal water supply. Donations continue to roll in from groups around the world who are inspired by the work done almost two years ago.

But that's only part of it. I've watched six "classes" of Project M participants return to the real world after their immersion. Hardly any of them go back to the jobs they had before. Some of them continue working on their chosen projects long after the month is over because they are so deeply connected to the causes. Some band together and start their own firms focused on socially-responsible work. Some of them get hired by the visiting critics. Most of them become famous.

However, for those of you worried about the money, why not do something creative to raise the funds yourself? Ben Barry did.

No matter how you get there, believe me, Project M is definitely worth it. And for Winterhouse to generously offer up their "house" as well as the wisdom of their many houseguests, that's darn near priceless.
Alissa Walker

We all need to understand that this is hard and serious work. For those of you who are good, and have an interest in this type of work, but don't know what, where or how to begin - this would be an invaluable experience.

I'd like to offer a $500 scholarship to anyone who needs support. Please contact Bill or Jessica to learn how to get it.
Rocco Piscatello

Eric: I love blogs, parties, and giving magazine writers cash. These are nice things for The Design Community, indeed. But this is hardly the same as social change.

Thanks, Alissa. Clearly Project M is about making connections and getting famous. Just look at the list of Project M advisors: not many non-profit professionals, public interest lawyers, or community organizers there. Just a lot of the usual bold-face name designers. This is all fine for young designers who want to break into The Design Community, but it's not really the same as social change.

Thanks everyone for the expressions of support (and honest concerns). I want to stay focused on the opportunity though — which is a group of designers and professionals working together to create a project they think is important in a rural community.

To @A, please note we didn't start with "famous" designers, but with our local community foundation, which is a lead participant in this two-week project. We've meet this week with local housing experts to lay a groundwork for other thinking. Most of the "visiting critics" coming are friends who are volunteering their time. (Most are giving up vacation time in late August, so let's not slam them too hard, even if they are widely known.) As with the work of community leaders in Hale County AL who have collaborated with Project M there, we will have experienced social enterprise participants working on this project in Litchfield County CT.

That said, @A, everyone involved in this project is willing to use their real name against their reputation. In the future, please sign your real name: we'd love to know who you are and more of your experience in the zone of social enterprise. If you have ideas about how to make this a more successful project, please call 860.824.5040 or email me at [email protected]. But, unless you're willing to use your real name, or personally call me, don't come here and cast cowardly innuendos.

In the midst these comments, did anyone notice that Rocco Piscatello has offered an unsolicited $500 scholarship? Please note that he was willing to use his real name. And please note that he announced it here without any knowledge of Winterhouse or Project M. Rocco, your support is so greatly appreciated.
William Drenttel

As a participator in Project M 2007, I'm saddened by some of the ignorant comments I'm reading here.

To A:
I certainly did not attend the program for connections and fame. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I had been working in the non-porfit sector for several years and was burning out on the rat race of the New York design scene.

And in terms of the "usual bold-face name designers" who were our advisors, you're leaving out the non-bold-faced, behind-the-scenes, hard-working, modest and admirable names like Pam Dorr, who runs the HERO Housing Resource Center in Hale County, AL.

If you take some time to research the program, the people invovled, and the work we've done, you may begin to see there's a lot more to it than the illusion of social change you make it out to be.

To end on a positive note, I'll add that I too learned more about myself, my profession, my country and my peers from one month at Project M than from four years of art school and four years of work experience combined.
Ellen Sitkin

Years ago, my husband and I sat in the auditorium at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and listened to Sam Mockbee lecture on his work and commitment to the the "Rural Studio." Honestly, it remains one of the most interesting and important lectures I have had heard in my career. It is exciting to think that "Project M" can have similar impact on the role of graphic design as an agent for change. Congrats!
Kali Nikitas

Wow, what a conversation. I wish it was in the cards for me this year. But funds are just too tight. I've always worked very hard in my local community to make a difference -- whether it be with my design skills or not. If you give -- you get the world back.

I am not your traditional art school grad designer (and I'm well past that point anyway) -- I have made my own way in this business, and I have always been a bit amazed by how narrow art school grads are -- and I applaud Winterhouse and their efforts to widen the perspective of your average designer.

I am sorry you are getting so much flack for it -- I pay $$ every year, plus my expenses to volunteer to help other people. It is my way of giving back. I grew up in a poor rural community and my "prestigious" university education was entirely on scholarship. Giving back is important, and I don't understand the reaction some people have had here -- it just adds to my suspicions some of my colleagues.

Ann Stringer

I wonder if you will learn anything from these poor people. And if you do and you use it in your future work where you will earn hefty sums at pentagram or other studios, will you share your future wealth with the rural poor people? Also do poor people make you sign non disclosure, non competitive, copyright clauses on their intellectual property? Do poor rural people have ip lawyers? Of are they just considered not intelligent enough?

If not, is that exploitation?

Jobs | June 14