Ferguson Voices: Disrupting the Frame

Impact: Cultural Impact, Social Impact

Impact summary

Ferguson Voices: Disrupting the Frame is a multidisciplinary project that is part of the Moral Courage Project, a collaboration between the University of Dayton and PROOF: media for Social Justice. It tells the stories of people from the Ferguson community who took part in the protests the erupted after teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. Focused on the first-hand testimony of these protestors, it represents a diverse number of people from Ferguson, challenging the overwhelming narrative from the media at the time that the protestors were 'rioters'.

My role in this project was art direction and design of the travelling exhibition. This was part of my practice-led doctoral research, 'The Ligatures of Life', published in 2019.

The research focuses on the role of designers in the creation of 'difficult' exhibitions - that is, those that contain information on issues such as genocide, gender violence, contested histories, death, or war. During the practice of designing Ferguson Voices, several methods of practice were tested as part of the development of the CHaSSMM Model of Analysis, which helps designers to tease out ideological frameworks behind difficult exhibitions, and the role that designers play in the performance of this ideology in the world.

This research has developed a practical model for design practice, particularly when projects involve the collaboration of multidisciplinary teams. It brings together critical hermeneutics, social semiotics and multimodality to tease out ideology, power structures, and tacit bias. It argues that designers practice a 'double-ended' interpretation within their practice - one that interprets resources given to them by curators and project research, and then through the creation of design artefacts.

The significance of Ferguson Voices was in the type of representation it gave to the community, and what it meant for the community as well. Many of the people represented in the exhibition have been photographed visiting it, or at the opening night. In this respect, this research became a practical way to analyse ways, and develop frameworks, for representation of people's stories of trauma, of marginalised communities to be undertaken explicitly, avoiding where possible tacit bias.

Ferguson Voices has been displayed in a number of locations in the US, including:

Roesch Library, OH, 17 January-3 February 2017
Dayton Metro Library, OH, 1-31 March 2017
St. Louis Public Library, MO 2018
St. Louis University, MO 2018
Class of 1945 Library, Phillps Exeter Academy, NH, 4-26 January 2018
Denison University, OH 5-23 February 2018
National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN, April-August, 2019 (~2000 visitors daily)
Newark Public Library, NJ, August-September 2019
Impact date01 Jan 20172021
Category of impactCultural Impact, Social Impact
Impact levelEngagement


  • exhibition design
  • experiential design
  • difficult exhibitions
  • CHaSSMM Model
  • Ferguson Voices: Disrupting the Frame
  • Social Justice
  • Human Rights

Countries where impact occurred

  • Australia
  • United States