Cover art for podcast The Institute of Black Imagination.

The Institute of Black Imagination.

62 EpisodesProduced by darioWebsite

Welcome to The Institute of Black Imagination hosted by artist, writer, and designer Dario Calmese. Each week we bring you conversations from The Pool of Black Genius: a collection of iconoclasts at the leading edge of cultural thought and innovation. We are here to inspire, engage, and to help you … read more


E19. Designing for Liberation with Systems Thinker, Marquise Stillwell.

Today’s episode is with systems thinker and design maverick, Marquise Stillwell. 

Born and raised in Ohio, into a family of community activists, Marquise learned the power of owning one’s story at an early age. He is the founder and principal of Openbox, a company focused on improving the lives of those in the communities they serve through design, storytelling, and innovation. His work spans over 20 years, designing and implementing fresh models for businesses and cultural organizations, while sitting on the boards of The Lowline Underground Park, Stae, Artmatr, Creative Capital, PioneerWorks and the Urban Ocean Lab. He is also a member of the High Line Advisory Committee.

Through Openbox, Marquise has created an intellectual circular economy, grounded in the ethos of improving our communities’ by placing people-centered services and experiences at the forefront of design thinking. His philanthropic and creative activities include teaching for two Danish design schools: the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design and KaosPilot in the city of Aarhus. In addition to being the co-founder of Deem Journal, a magazine focused on design and social practices, he also collaborates with colleague Petter Ringbom on various films including Shield and Spear (2014) and The New Bauhaus (2019) which brings to light the wide-ranging oeuvre and brilliance of Bauhaus instructor Lazlo Moholy-Nagy. The company name, Openbox, takes its name from the story of Henry Box Brown, a slave who, in 1849, mailed himself to freedom from the Jim Crow South, arriving 27 hours later in Philadelphia. Representing the idea of openness and freedom, OpenBox builds frameworks that aren’t designed to lock the individuals in, but instead provide them with tools of liberation. 

In today’s episode, we discuss how people of color can create spaces for the curiosity of others, the art of not turning one’s struggle into a lifestyle, the power of subversion in design thinking, and how he has made his network his net worth. It is with great pleasure to introduce the incredible Marquise Stillwell, to the IBI podcast.

Here are some highlights:

On people of color creating spaces for the curiosity of others: If you have the ability to know yourself, know who you are, have the ability to own who you are, and have the ability to tell your own story then I really believe there has to be some window of opportunity to allow for people to engage with you with open curiosity without you feeling that they’re going to take something from you. (12:30)

On the art of not turning one’s struggle into a lifestyle: Don’t turn your struggle into a lifestyle; be who you are - but don’t turn it into a lifestyle to where you’re trying to be this thug when you don’t even have to be like really is that how you have to live your life? Then you can do better. (24:00)

On how he has made his network his net worth: My network is my net worth, and I put a lot of value in the people that I know and I connect with. And with that being said I walk into every relationship knowing who I am first! Someone would ask me what’s the key to living in a city like New York or London or any other big city is that if you don’t know who you are, you’re done! (42:27)

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