15 Buzzwords for 15 Years: INFLUENCE

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Gala Narezo March 6, 2016


gala-narezo-headshotI am honored and excited to help celebrate Designmatters’ 15 years of social impact design at ArtCenter. Although I have been studying art since my mother first took me to painting classes at MoMA at the age of five, the most meaningful shift on my path towards becoming a happy and fulfilled artist took place working with Mariana Amatullo at Designmatters. This shift was prompted by the understanding that my art and heart and efforts could go far beyond the audiences I had envisioned, and that my work could have a meaningful impact I had never imagined before.

Mariana Amatullo has had a beautiful and powerful influence in my life and so it seems fitting for me to speak about the role of INFLUENCE in social impact design, education and everyday life on this occasion. Since leaving ArtCenter almost fifteen years ago my work has focused on the myriad ways art, design and creative problem solving can be used to create transformational positive social changes. Along the path I realized that this equation only grows stronger when you add in mindfulness, hence the name of my latest endeavor mindful + , which is based on my learning that mindfulness can be added to just about anything and yield much more powerful and enduring results.

Mindfulness is the ability to bring your awareness to the present moment over and over again. It is the capacity to pay attention to what is happening right now. Being mindful means you notice the quality of your experience through your senses. Being mindful is being curious about your thoughts, mind and experience, as well as that of others, in a non-judgmental way. Being mindful means that you are attending to and accepting the entirety of your human experience.

For my newest endeavor mindful + I started an intervention in the NYC subways. Being a daily subway rider, I am always amazed at how my morning commute is a microcosm of the human experience all jammed into one small, hot subway car. Almost everything we experience in our relationships outside of the subway happens inside the subway in much tighter, sweatier, in-your-face quarters and this is why it is the perfect place to hone and practice your social impact and change making skills.

I often practice something called “lovingkindness meditation” in the subway as a way to send all my fellow commuters peace and kind thoughts. This practice led me to consider what it would feel like to offer authentic kind thoughts to real people. I came up with the stickers above. With a Sharpie, riders can write write a kind thought for another subway rider and then leave the sticker in the subway car once they leave. (Don’t worry. The stickers are not permanent and do not deface public property.) If the rider likes the project, they take a photo of the sticker and upload the kind thought to the @mindfulplus Instagram site. The goal is to offer people the opportunity to truly wish something kind to another passenger they do not know, possibly imagining that someone might do the same for them.

The word influence comes from Medieval Latin and means “to flow in” and also connotes “an imperceptible or indirect action that causes change.” Have you ever thought about everything that has influenced you during your lifetime? All the overt and covert, subtle and not so subtle actions that have had an impact on you and that have helped to form who you are? Could you map them? What are some of the influences that have helped you arrive at where you are today? In what ways has Designmatters influenced your life?

Thanks to Designmatters I continue to contemplate questions like these everyday.

I’m happy to send you some stickers if you would like to try offering kind thoughts.

Just write me at gala@mindfulplus.org.


Gala Narezo is an artist, educator and consultant who specializes in creating platforms for social issues. Using art, design thinking and mindfulness her work focuses on community engagement and collaborative problem solving. With the conviction that mindfulness is an essential component of social impact design she recently launched mindful+.  In addition to offering workshops and classes on art and social engagement, she designs curricula and programs to teach mindfulness and to engage humans of all ages in mindful change-making.

Help us celebrate 15 Years of Designmatters by using the hashtag #DM15Yrs

Catch up on the entire campaign at  designmattersatartcenter.org/category/dm15 

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#DM15yrs campaign designed by Vina Rostomyan