Oak Park native and Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate Maya Bird-Murphy, an architect by trade, has some serious wind at her back.
In April, she was one among 14 people selected to participate in the inaugural cohort for the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab, a three-year incubator program created to support Black designers. The Design Lab is the result of a collaboration between world-renowned artist Theaster Gates and fashion house Prada.
In a video message posted to the Design Lab’s website, Gates said the 13 participants who were selected were chosen from a pool of candidates nominated by people from around the world, whom Gates and the Design Lab “really care about” and “admire.”
“We said, ‘You know, if you know of any cool people that may be under the radar or people who may be working close to your shop, let us know,’” Gates said. “We were flooded by our nominators.”
Gates said over 100 people were nominated and their work was evaluated by a small group of judges.
“I didn’t know anything about it until I got an email saying, ‘Congrats, you’re one of the awardees,’” Bird-Murphy said in an interview earlier this month, having freshly returned from a trip to Milan, where she and other program cohorts toured Prada’s glitzy headquarters.
“Coming back to my real life, it feels like it didn’t even happen,” she said. “It feels like a dream.”
Bird-Murphy still has more trips to take and lessons to learn through the Design Lab, which also gave her an undisclosed amount of money to help support the organization that got her nominated in the first place — Chicago Mobile Makers, the group she founded in order to get young people, particularly in communities of color, interested in the craft and art of building and design.
In 2018, Bird-Murphy retrofitted a van that serves as a mobile lab for hands-on design. With the vehicle, she offers free and low-cost workshops for young people in areas like architecture, digital fabrication, basic construction and place-making.
Bird-Murphy now works for Mobile Makers full-time and has a team around her, including three people who facilitate the Chicago Mobile Makers program: Stephen Cortez, Bobbie Carr and Karli Honroth. The organization also has a board of directors.
In September, Mobile Makers will start offering a free 10-week architecture and design program on Chicago’s West Side to 7th-12th graders.
Anyone interested in registering in the program can visit mobilemakers.org and click the ‘Programs’ tab at the top of the screen.