Dario Calmese

New York, New York
Architecture & Design, Cultural Organizing

Whether in the built environment, urban planning, or social domain, the world we find ourselves in has been designed. All design is predictive, meaning the designer assumes the burden of foreseeing the utility of any given system, and rarely is there a modular function embedded for the end-user to adjust to their needs. In a world not designed with Black people in mind, they have continually hacked, remixed, and jerry-rigged the spaces, objects, and ideas that they confront, and in that process, have not only brought about their own deliverance, but that of others as well. Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed states “Only [the] power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.” The Institute of Black Imagination is a two-month liberative design experience, stemming from a fundamental understanding that the burden of liberation is on the oppressed, and knowing that the world we find ourselves in has been designed—designed by oppressive forces and exclusionary to Black people from their genesis.

Sitting at the nexus of art, fashion and academia, Dario Calmese is an artist, urbanist, director, and brand consultant currently based in New York City. He received his master’s in photography from the School of Visual Arts and his bachelors in psychology at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. Classically trained in the performing arts, he uses his knowledge of movement, gesture, and psychology to create complex characters and narratives that explore history, race, class, and what it means to be human. In 2020 he made history as the first Black photographer to shoot a cover for Vanity Fair in it’s 106-year history with his portrait of Oscar-winning actress, Viola Davis. 2020 also saw the launch of his widely-acclaimed podcast, The Institute of Black Imagination, featuring conversations from the Pool of Black Genius through the lens of design.