Design Yard Sale logo.

Design Yard Sale logo.

Arts & Culture

Art for a cause

3 min read

Graduate School of Design students auction works to advance social justice

With a “yard sale” like none other, a cohort of five Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) students and recent graduates aims to both raise awareness of social and racial justice in design, and directly support anti-racism organizations. 

Officially launched on July 1, Design Yard Sale has raised more than $80,000 in three weeks, with all proceeds benefiting a pair of non-profit organizations dedicated to anti-racist efforts.    

The event has operated like a virtual auction and gift shop. Its catalog includes a curated range of original sketches, paintings, furniture, books, and apparel, many of which have been both donated and autographed by their designers — among them, Virgil Abloh, Denise Scott Brown, and Frank Gehry. 

Design Yard Sale’s formation and operation have been decidedly grassroots: Student organizers coalesced via email listservs and the auction’s goods were solicited almost entirely via donation from their creators or owners, which included a number of Harvard GSD students and faculty. The team confronted the intricacies of e-commerce, transactional law and logistics, and sponsorship as they arose.  

The homebrew origin story — and success — of Design Yard Sale mirrors its community-minded vision: to engage the skills and fruits of design in supporting anti-racist organizations and movements.   

Neon signs in Las Vegas.

Scott Brown’s photographs, all taken during the 1960s, capture Las Vegas as it was — the suburban strip city that famously inspired Scott Brown and her partners to write “Learning from Las Vegas.” These signed and framed prints are one-of-a-kind and exclusive to Design Yard Sale.

Photo by Denise Scott Brown

Design Yard Sale’s organizers — Grace Chee, M.Arch ’21, Tessa Crespo, M.Des ’20, Edward Han, M.Arch ’21, Izzy Kornblatt, M.Des ’19, and Yaxuan Liu, M.Arch ’21 —  first began conversing via GSD community emails and listservs in late May. 

Motivated by ongoing social-justice conversations, and catalyzed by the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in late May, the team felt driven to rewire design’s agency amid a national reckoning on race and justice, one in which the design fields have been directly implicated. 

The Design Yard Sale cohort set up the project with no prior fundraising experience, learning and organizing on the fly. Proceeds of Design Yard Sale will benefit two organizations, each of which is dedicated to fighting systemic racism.

The team selected The Bail Project, a nonprofit organization designed to combat mass incarceration by reforming the money bail system and Colloqate Design, a New Orleans-based architecture and design justice practice.

“In the face of such deeply rooted violence and oppression, we questioned what role we could play, and as minority designers and students ourselves, we wanted to contribute to the movement in whatever small way we could,” said Chee. “As Jerome Byron, one of our contributors, put it, Design Yard Sale is about promoting strategies for personal spending and redirecting cash to where it matters most.”