Generous Donation Launches the Kusske Design Initiative

March 11, 2021

A generous commitment from Manitou Fund to the University of Minnesota’s College of Design will honor the memory of distinguished alumnus Christopher Arthur Kusske (BLA ‘78).

Inspired by his work, the Kusske Design Initiative will instill his legacy through broadly inclusive, high-profile events that involve prestigious designers and consider intersections of varied design disciplines and methodologies. The initiative will also provide student scholarships and faculty support to create a community of broad-minded, collaborative designers for revisioning and remaking our world.

Christopher’s career, together with his partner Allen Kolkowitz (B.Arch ’82), exemplified interdisciplinary design understanding and its importance in advancing the field. Their firm, KOLKOWITZ KUSSKE, worked across the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain to generate systematically imagined solutions. They involved expertise from multiple disciplines, guided by the belief that all projects require a rigorous approach to design methodology.

Through the Kusske Design Initiative, an annual series of events and dialogs will bring practitioners and scholars to the College of Design to consider humanity’s most pressing issues and imagine promising futures. Each year, a Burst of radically participatory engagement with diverse creative perspectives will be followed by the Kusske Lecture. This honor will be awarded to highly accomplished designers whose work demonstrates phenomenal vision and outcomes. The prestigious event will be open to the entire Twin Cities community and beyond. Reflecting each year’s events will be a broad-reaching, intermodal exhibit that invites engagement with outcomes of the creative, pluralistic collaborative. This widely inclusive Vista will manifest as graphical displays, videos, podcasts, and other designed forms.

“The Kusske Design Initiative will be thoroughly integrated into the College of Design. Working with Christopher’s deep understandings of nature and design, and the multidisciplinary DNA of the college, students will collaborate with premiere designers and with each other to develop and employ formal language and rigorous methodology. These approaches will come to characterize events and design inquiries with transformative potential for the products we use and the environments we inhabit,” said Dean Carol Strohecker. “We are honored to be able to reflect Chris’s work in advancing the college, thanks to the generosity of the Manitou Fund and the McNeely Family.”

Through this new initiative, undergraduate student Scholars, graduate-level Fellows, and faculty Principals will be named each year. They will partner with the year’s esteemed Kusske Lecturer and other guest designers to develop the projects and exhibits. An always-on app, Canopy KDI, will ensure ongoing connectivity and support exchanges among the cohort, for both online and hands-on creative work.

“This is the moment to open up design frameworks and advance the dialog,” said Allen Kolkowitz. “Kusske Scholars and Fellows will come to understand that collaboration does not mean losing your base, but making a new one—from which entirely new solutions become attainable. At a time of great challenges in our relationships with nature and with each other, the Kusske Design Initiative supports emerging designers so they can identify issues, frame solvable problems, and learn to conduct constructive dialogs. The opportunities are vast.”

The multiple years’ cohorts will join to form a steadily emerging, interconnected community—the basis of lifelong friendships and creative partnerships that will influence the future of design. The Kusske Lecturers will serve as key figures in crucial conversations that connect students, faculty, and the larger community, while addressing vital issues in our quickly evolving context.

Inspired by the annual Lecture, colleagues in the Kusske cohorts, across the College of Design, and throughout the larger community will form teams to generate broadly inclusive solutions for pressing societal issues. By working with the most vulnerable members of our community, the collaborators will demonstrate how strategic design can benefit everyone.

“The Kusske Design Initiative creates fantastic opportunities,” said Kevin McNeely. “It will provide an enduring tribute to a dear friend of the McNeely Family, who were always very fond of Chris. Together, members of the Kusske cohorts will grow to invent a future that is more equitable and resilient. We are delighted to work with the College of Design on this important initiative.”

Located in a major design city and in one of the largest research universities in the U.S., the College of Design at the University of Minnesota encompasses a full range of design disciplines. The faculty, students, and staff aim to advance the quality and value of our natural, designed, and social environments through sustainably resilient, socially responsible, civically engaged, human-centered and critically focused design collaborations.

Manitou Fund supports collaborative creativity aiming to ensure social justice and environmental stewardship.

An anonymous faculty member and spouse have committed $1 million to support graduate students at the College of Design.