Design Miami's Wava Carpenter Talks Art Basel and Move to Beach

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Because Art Basel Miami Beach is only a few months away, we jumped at the chance to speak with the new director of Design Miami/, Wava Carpenter.

The Design Miami team, who, interestingly, are mostly women, seek out the best in contemporary and historically influential design and house it under one very respected roof at biannual fairs. They also orchestrate numerous forums with designers, curators, and critics in their Design Talks, Design Galleries, Design on Site, and Design Satellites. Every year, they also give out a Designer of the Year Award, which distinguishes designers who exhibit unprecedented dedication to their vision as well as innovative style.

Art Basel 2010 will be Carpenter's first as director, but she's worked for Design Miami ever since 2006, when co-founder Ambra Medda asked her to work on the fair's programming. She recently talked with us about the rapidly growing company, the all-women team, and Design Miami's impending move to Miami Beach.              

New Times: How has the transition from Director of Culture and Content to Acting Director affected your daily job duties? 

Wava Carpenter: My position with Design Miami has been continuously

evolving since Ambra asked me to join in early 2006. I was originally

brought to the company to work on programming, such as the awards,

special exhibitions, and the Design Talks, but the small size and rapid

growth of the company meant I needed to wear many hats right from the

beginning. In fact, I've been managing the finances and developing

strategies for a couple years already. I was appointed Associate

Director in between Director of Culture & Content and Acting

Director. So the main change for me these days is that I'm being asked

to take a more public position for Design Miami and answer press

questions such as these.

My most immediate goal is to ensure our move to Miami Beach is smooth

and successful, and that the quality of the fair continues to grow while

the curatorial point of view remains fresh and unpredictable.

There's something to be said about Design Miami being primarily run by a

group of women. How do you find working in an environment with mostly


I'm incredibly proud to work with a company that is run primarily by

women, all between mid-20s and mid-30s. Right now, including myself, the

Design Miami core team includes nine females and one male. I'm not

exactly sure how or why it happened, but our team has always comprised a

majority proportion of uniquely smart, tenacious and talented women.

The fast pace and high profile of the company has obliged the long-time

team members to excel at multitasking and not taking 'no' for an answer.

In a tough market, what is it that makes Design Miami standout from

other fairs? Do you think the versatile cultural programming is a large

factor of the success?

Having been with the company nearly since the beginning, I've witnessed

first hand DM's transformation from obscure, upstart project to

respected international destination event. Every year we have topped our

own past performance, and, especially with our move to Miami Beach this

year, we are quite confident we will do so again.

I believe DM continues to shine, because it is a very layered endeavor,

mixing extraordinary exhibitions with chic events, having an acute

dedication to high-quality and representing the current pulse of

creative culture. Without a doubt we offer the best selection of

international design galleries of any fair in the world, and then we

couple this with a refined selection of unique projects by established

and emerging designers as well as visionary brands.

Because Design Miami/ juxtaposes historical design with contemporary

pieces do you think this brings about a more diverse audience? And if it

does, how do you manage to decide what to include since your fair sets

the bar pretty high for the pieces included?

We work hard to cultivate a diverse audience through everything we do,

because we believe this is a key component to any successful event. We

hope to bring important collectors together with the best dealers,

insightful curators, talented designers, and progressive business

people. Bringing together people from different walks of life is the

motor of cultural production, and it makes for the best parties.

Our selection of galleries is very rigorous. Each exhibitor must submit

an application that outlines the designers represented, the number of

years in business and the type of exhibitions mounted in their home

spaces. They must also list the work they intend to exhibit, and the

final selection is made with our gallery committee. The intention is

ensure the show if filled with work that is worthy of museum acquisition

and that tells a rich story about the history and future of design.

What can we expect from Design Miami at this years Art Basel? It will be moving to Miami Beach, correct? 

It is very early in our planning to provide many details about this

year's show, but yes, we will host the show in Miami Beach for the first

time. We're really excited about this. We expect to grow our gallery

presentation in both quantity and quality (we will meet with our

Selection Committee in two weeks to finalize this aspect of the show). 

Of course we will name a new Designer of the Year Award winner, who will

present a newly commissioned project inside the show. We will have

Design Talks and Design Performances, and an interesting design for tent

venue. But we're not yet ready to announce the details.

What excites you the most about Design Miami?

As I mentioned before, I'm really proud of the fact that Design Miami is

so layered and diverse - that our programming offers something for

everyone. But I guess right now I'm feeling really excited about the

Designer of the Year Award, because I just met with our new winner

during my trip to the Biennale.

It's such a privilege to be able to work closely with a major talent

from the design world, and to be able to collaborate on a new commission

to be unveiled during the show. I'm a total design junkie, so I get a

tremendous amount of joy and fulfillment out my experiences working

closely with designers to create new work. I wouldn't trade this for


-- Elena Chiriboga

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