The “AYF Summer 2017” section of the Armenian Weekly’s Youth page will highlight the 2017 summer programs of the Armenian Youth Federation – Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AYF-YOARF) Eastern United States.
Design In Armenia—A Creative Awakening
By Alek Surenian, 2017 AYF Intern and member of the Chicago “Ararat” chapter
When found out I was selected to be one of 11 interns for this summer’s Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Internship program, I was very excited. I finally got the chance I have been waiting for my whole life. I have spent all my life not knowing what it is like to be in my homeland and I have dreamt of being able to experience what many of my fellow ungers have done before me.
In April, this dream became a reality. I bought my plane ticket, and started to think about this whole experience and what I would be doing this summer.
As the days approached to when I would hop on a plane and head to Yerevan, I started to get nervous. I was excited, but I was still somewhat anxious about this whole experience. I was skeptical about the design scene in Armenia: a country which has been independent for 26 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is still developing and rebuilding itself. I am an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying industrial design, which is the practice of developing products, which can help improve people’s lives on a day to day basis. As a diasporan Armenian, I have spent most my life learning about Armenia and I have established an assumption that Armenia is not as developed or modern as other countries around the world. I did not think that industrial design in Armenia is a common practice.
However, after accepting to be part of the AYF Internship program, I began to research and work with the internship committee to obtain a summer job, which relates to my field of study. At first, it was difficult to find an opportunity. After a few weeks of looking around, my director recommended me to consider a non-profit organization called HDIF (Homeland Development Initiative Foundation). HDIF designs household products in the capital, Yerevan, and then outsources the work for products to be produced at a larger quantity in villages and smaller cities around Armenia. This production process helps provide jobs to the villagers, most of whom are women whose husbands away working.
After considering other options, I decided to be an intern designer with HDIF, and I was very excited to be a part of the team and have an open mind in this journey. HDIF works out of Impact Hub, a community space in the AGBU Building on Melik Adamyan St. The Hub is filled with other groups and organizations; to collectively help make Armenia a better and more developed place. After walking into the space for the first time, I felt like I belonged. I really love to be in a place where there are other creative people. This helps create an environment where new ideas and concepts can be shared. The Hub is very open and modern, with large glass panels separating each of the offices. One side of the building has solar panels attached to the windows, making it an eco-friendly environment. All the members of the Impact Hub, no matter what organization or group they work for, know each other and are friendly and sociable.
I then greeted the other members of HDIF. They were all very excited to have a new member of the team and they welcomed me with open arms and got me straight to work. I am currently working on designing accessories and bags utilizing the current textile fabrics they design and produce in Armenia. I’m hoping that by the end of my internship, I will have prototypes and final versions of the products I am designing.
Here are some mock up sketches of a few products I’m working on:
We spent last Friday going to Spitak, Armenia, a city which was devastated by a terrible earthquake in the 1988. As mentioned earlier, HDIF outsources the production of new products to villages and cities throughout Armenia. During the development and ideating stages of the accessories and bags I was designing, we decided to outsource the production of my designs to Spitak, where they specialize in sewing.
We took an “HDIF Road Trip” to Spitak and met with the producers. I shared my design with them and we discussed how we are going to work together to produce these new products. It was very exciting to meet with them and provide opportunities to help improve their lives. We then left and drove up through Vanadzor and Dilijan just for fun! We twisted and turned through the lush mountains, as I stared out the window taking in Armenia’s beauty, which never fails to disappoint. The air was clean and cool compared to the strong and intense heat of Yerevan.
After exploring northern Armenia, we headed back to Yerevan, driving past Lake Sevan on the way. It was a fun and enjoyable day and I’m hoping to go on more road trips with HDIF in the coming weeks.
My experience so far has changed my perspective on the current state of Armenia. It has showed me that there is a creative awakening in the country. The people at Impact Hub and HDIF want change; a change for a better Armenia. All the misconceptions I had about design in Armenia made me realize that we as the diaspora need to learn more about the opportunities and movements that are taking place in the country: a place where remnants of the Soviet Union are disappearing and making way for more modern and creative lifestyles and ways of thinking. Although this change is happening slowly, the Impact Hub is just one small part of helping achieve this bigger picture and being a part of this movement is amazing. I can’t wait to see what other experiences and connections I make through Impact Hub and HDIF during the rest of the summer.
Overall, I am fortunate I can gain professional work experience in my field while also spending time exploring our beautiful country with 10 other interns in the AYF Internship program. The camaraderie and bonds I am creating with these people is great and I am lucky I get to spend my first time in Armenia with them. I hope that 20 years from now, we will see a new type of Armenia; an Armenia where new ideas are shared, and creativity can help shape the future of our homeland for the better. Each intern is doing their part—whether big or small—to help make this future a reality.