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January 13, 2020

Five Questions with Antionette Carroll: Founder, President, and CEO of Creative Reaction Lab

When Antionette Carroll joins us on the main stage at the 3rd annual In/Visible Talks conference, she’ll be engaging with us, challenging us, in her talk on “Design No Harm: Why Humility is Essential in the Journey Toward Equity”. She brings with her an impressive rèsumé and a wealth of real-world experience.   

Antionette is the Founder, President, and CEO of Creative Reaction Lab, a nonprofit organization that educates and deploys youth to challenge racial and health inequities. Within this role, Antionette created Equity-Centered Community Design, a form of creative problem solving that was a finalist for the Fast Company World Changing Idea Award. In further recognition for her pioneering work, Antionette has been named an ADL and Aspen Institute Civil Society Fellow, Echoing Green Global Fellow, TED Fellow, GDUSA Person to Watch, and ADCOLOR Innovator Awardee.

In 2014, Antionette was named the Founding Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force of the AIGA, the Professional Association of Design. Currently, she’s an AIGA National Board Director and Chair Emerita of the Task Force. She’s also the co-founder of the Design + Diversity Conference and Fellowship.

Here are some insights into Antionette’s creative journey.

What is your relationship to the creative process?

“As a person who believes everyone is inherently creative, I think every decision we make involves the creative process. Even the idea of creating a business, team development, or working to create an equitable society involves creativity. My personal creative lens is centered around social justice and equity, because I believe every decision we make, whether we like to admit it or not, impacts the lives of others.” 

When did you first realize you needed to be in a creative field?

“I was the DIY kid, ecstatic at the thought of getting easels as a gift. As time progressed, however, I found myself detouring from my love for the arts because of outside influences. Earlier in my life, there were many discussions around what lacked in the creative field (usually positioned as stable income), and I found myself focusing on skills that were more socially acceptable. Fast forward to my freshman year of college and I was a biology major with intentions of obtaining a PhD in Biotechnology and studying the human genome. I had a 4.0 GPA and even a prestigious internship that year. It was everything that made sense. There was just one problem: I found myself bored out of my mind. I didn’t feel the same excitement I felt as a kid when I was in the process of ‘creating’ through the arts. I made it my mission to find a creative field that aligned with my interests and, five majors later, finally found my first (of several) creative paths in Advertising and Graphic Design.”

How or where do you find inspiration?

“An array of things and individuals fuel my inspiration, such my family, my staff and team, activists on the ground—challenging systems that have been around for centuries—and people pushing the status quo. These individuals remind me that my work and their work is all a part of the movement.”

What was one of your biggest creative challenges?

“Turning Creative Reaction Lab into a business has been and continues to be one of my biggest creative challenges. When the idea of Creative Reaction Lab came to mind, I had no plans of turning it into an institution. It was positioned as a program for my community in support of the Ferguson Uprising. However, individuals across the country were extremely interested in turning the event into a business. After months of deliberation, I finally decided to quit my full-time job and went through a phase of questioning my ‘future’. During this phase, I considered freelancing and building an art studio at home, amongst other things. Eventually, however, I decided that turning Creative Reaction Lab into a business was indeed the way to go. I found myself faced with the ‘non-sexy’ but crucial parts of organizational development—and the creativity it requires to complete tasks—such as creating organizational policies, securing funding for programmatic and staff growth, and building organizational culture. Also, now that we’ve pioneered a new form of creative problem solving (Equity-Centered Community Design), we’re dealing with a whole host of new creative challenges, such as intellectual property management.”

What was your first job?

“At the age of 11, I worked at my older cousin’s beauty salon. She was the only one in my family, at the time, who had a structured business. To be a part of that history was amazing. At the time, I don’t think I realized the impact that seeing two Black women as entrepreneurs and business owners would have on me and my future journey.” 

Bonus Round: What is your favorite color?

“I do not have a favorite color, since they can be limiting. I prefer stripes. :-).”