Today, Mansfield heads MASS’s Deaf Space design portfolio as well as its Restorative Justice Design Lab. The subjects in his current work queue range from deafness and memorialization in Deaf schools, a publication on hospital architecture and colonialism, and projects that, as Mansfield puts it, “illuminate and spatialize the trauma, injustice, and racism of mass incarceration.”
Simultaneously, he has spent the past three years documenting the architecture and landscape design of 50 of the world’s Deaf schools, with sidebar visits to Deaf clubs and other community spaces. Supported by the Graham Foundation and the Library of Congress, Mansfield is turning this research into the Deaf Space Archive, which explores both architecture’s impact on the Deaf experience and the impact of deafness on space design.
The archive stands to benefit directly from a recent $50,000 windfall: Last month, Mansfield was included in the first Disability Futures fellowship class. The Ford Foundation and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation are funding the new 18-month fellowship program, which distributes $1 million in no-strings-attached grants to 20 creative professionals per cycle.
Margaret Morton, a Ford Foundation director who helped shepherd Disability Futures into being, says Disability Futures’ overarching goal is “to shine a light on creators who are otherwise under-resourced and have not been supported by institutional philanthropy in an organized or aggressive way.” Indeed, Morton points out that of the more than 600,000 arts organizations in the United States, none is dedicated to supporting disabled artists.
The grant has energized Mansfield to think about the Deaf Space Archive more ambitiously. The project was always meant as a platform for dialogue among diverse communities rather than a repository of stories; perhaps the Deaf Space Archive could now come to life even more tangibly, as a series of creative placemaking installations.
“In designing Deaf spaces, the wheel is constantly reinvented with one-off solutions, but through this archive, we have an opportunity to build on a body of knowledge and exchange resources with an eye on advancing design solutions that are evidence-based and user-centered,” Mansfield says of the work to come. And whether future designs are bespoke or endlessly replicable, Mansfield hopes that spaces informed by the Deaf Space Archive are “environments that honor deafness and celebrate difference.”
Envisioning his road ahead in further detail, Mansfield recalls another formative experience. As a grade school student at the Learning Center for the Deaf in Framingham, Massachusetts, a young Mansfield was allowed to observe and participate in Chuck Baird’s installation of a 150-foot-long collage. The renowned deaf artist transformed the cafeteria walls into a nuanced history of Deaf culture. Mansfield hopes his own work builds upon that spirit of inclusivity and diversity, to ensure greater understanding—and enfranchisement—of the Deaf community.