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'Brandstand': Five Leading Thinkers to Speak on the 'States of America'

Freedom, determination, inclusivity, opportunity … What does America stand for today?

On Wednesday, November 15, the SVA Theatre will serve as the arena for a spirited debate and nuanced discussion about the current state of "America," as a brand. "Brandstand: States of America," hosted by the MPS Branding Alumni Network, will bring together a top-tier group of writers, activists and designers to examine culture, politics, and more, and to tackle the question of what America signifies today. Speakers include Charles Blow, author and New York Times columnist; Brian Collins, designer, writer and founder of COLLINS, a branding and design company; Paola Mendoza, filmmaker and artistic director of the Women's March; Jim Johnson, attorney and activist; Derek Thompson, author of Hit Makers and senior editor at The Atlantic; and MPS Branding Chair Debbie Millman, writer, artist and host of the Design Matters podcast. This is the second annual such event, organized by alumni from all eight graduating classes of SVA's MPS Branding program.

In advance of Wednesday's event, Millman and two of the organizing alumni, Anna Buchbauer (MPS 2012 Branding) and Andrew Miller (MPS 2012 Branding; current faculty), took time to jointly answer some questions about Brandstand and what they're excited to hear about from their high-profile lineup.

What is the Brandstand event? And how did this year’s group of speakers come to be?

Brandstand is a mini-conference that puts the year's most timely topic on the stand to debate and discuss. This year, five luminary speakers from the worlds of design, journalism, politics, and business will examine the current "States of America." Featuring speakers that bring a diversity of thought to the discussion matches how our master's program looks at branding—as a practice that requires a deep and nuanced understanding across culture, behavior, creativity and commerce.

What can folks expect on Wednesday?

Expect a rapid-fire set of opinions about the direction in which our country is headed and our role in creating a future we believe in. Paola Mendoza will share her perspective on the role of the artist in reawakening the heart of America. Jim Johnson will explore the core ideas of our nation in the context of [this month's, off-year] elections. Derek Thompson will explain the science behind what makes ideas popular and the resulting influence on economics and culture. Brian Collins will share commercial work for iconic American brands. And last but not least, Charles Blow will bring a social justice lens to help us think critically about how we move forward as a country.

A lot has happened since last November, when the first Brandstand was held—how is this year's event different?

We held that first Brandstand just three days after the 2016 election with the theme of 'Politics.' The context surrounding the event couldn't have been more shocking. Instead of celebrating the first female president, we reacted in real time to a new administration almost no one predicted would come into power.

Over the last year, American ideals like freedom and equality have been challenged day in and day out. [So] this year, we aim to explore the brand of America itself. What does it stand for now? How are current events influencing global perception? How do our behavior and actions, as a nation and as individuals, affect everything from trade to tourism?

How does Brandstand, as a lecture series and platform, reflect the work done by students in MPS Branding and the goals of the department?

Brandstand was completely conceived by our alumni group. Our ambitious MPS Branding graduates have been committed to continuing to further the meaning, purpose and stature of branding in our culture. We believe that the condition of brands reflects the condition of our culture. We also believe that government doesn't make culture; we believe that culture makes government. This effort reflects the notion that branding is now a profound manifestation of the human spirit and our work as change agents is just beginning.


This interview has been condensed and edited.

"Brandstand: States of America" takes place Wednesday, November 15, 6:00 – 8:30pm, at the SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd Street. This event is free and open to the public; register here.

For more information about SVA’s MPS Branding program, click here.

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