Caroline Baumann, director of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, has announced the selection of Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, as the Director’s Award recipient of the 2018 National Design Awards. Unlike the other National Design Awards, which are selected by an interdisciplinary jury of design leaders and educators, the Director’s Award is chosen by Baumann in recognition of outstanding support and patronage within the design community. The 2018 award recipients will be honored at a gala dinner and ceremony Thursday, Oct. 18, in the Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden at Cooper Hewitt.
“With a courageous vision for fighting social inequality, Darren has long been a champion of design as a democratizing force for good and a problem-solving catalyst for change,” Baumann said. “I am delighted to recognize Darren for his inspiring leadership and unwavering support of organizations across all spheres of influence who are working to build an inclusive and strong civil society around the world.”
As president of the Ford Foundation, headquartered in New York, Walker oversees an international social justice philanthropy with a $13 billion endowment and $600 million in annual grant making. For two decades, he has been a leader in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Walker led the philanthropy committee that helped bring a resolution to the city of Detroit’s historic bankruptcy (2013–2014), and chairs the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance. He co-chairs New York City’s Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, and serves on the Commission on the Future of Riker’s Island Correctional Institution and the UN International Labour Organization’s Global Commission on the Future of Work. He also serves on the boards of Carnegie Hall, Friends of the High Line and the Committee to Protect Journalists, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Before joining Ford, Walker was vice president at the Rockefeller Fo-undation, overseeing global and domestic programs including the Rebuild New Orleans initiative after Hurricane Katrina. In the 1990s, as chief operating officer of the Abyssinian Development Corporation—Harlem’s largest community development organization—he oversaw a comprehensive revitalization strategy, including building over 1,000 units of affordable housing and the first major commercial development in Harlem since the 1960s.
“I am honored and humbled to accept the Director’s Award on behalf of the Ford Foundation,” Walker said. “Cooper Hewitt shows us that design is an incredibly power-ful force in the world today. It is through smart, creative design that we can find unusual, inspiring ways to tackle some of the most urgent issues of our time, from health care to housing to the right to vote. From its groundbreaking ‘Design for the Other 90%’ exhibition series to its efforts to build a more accessible museum for people with disabilities, Cooper Hewitt is sparking a national dialogue about design innovation that is grounded in inclusivity and encouraging us all to embrace design as a way to challenge inequality.”