David Stark is an event veteran who uses design to make guests feel moved. How does he find inspiration? How does he give back?
Tell us your story.
When I went to college, I had no idea that there was an events world. I had no idea that this kind of career existed and that people do this. I studied to be a painter. I had every intention of being an artist and making paintings and sculptures and having shows in galleries and museums. That was always my goal from the very early age. I graduated from school and I went to graduate school and about 30 seconds after I got out of graduate school, I realized that I actually hated being in a studio by myself. The act of being alone painting was something that kind of made me a little bit crazy. I would get on the phone and I would call anybody that would possibly talk to me. I’d have a paint brush in one hand and I’d have the telephone in the other hand. I would talk my way through. What I realized in that process was that I actually like to collaborate with people. Transitioned from being a fine artist, working by myself to working with a group of people. More brain power created better stuff or more stuff or bigger stuff. I originally got involved working with flowers as a way to support my painting. That was really the way that I inched in. Working with flowers was a creative solution to waiting on tables to support my artwork. It felt akin to painting and it felt artistic. Somewhere along the way I realized that flowers were just one of the tools in the toolbox it wasn’t really right for every single occasion, but we’d work on these little events and that would lead to a slightly bigger event, which led to a slightly bigger event. Along the way I realized I’m really doing this, so let’s just do it. I approached what we do, like making a painting. So my approach has not changed. I’m still the fine artist deep down, but I do that for people. I do that for milestone occasions for individuals or corporate events or non-for-profit events where we’re looking to raise money for really incredible causes. I apply that same kind of art training and art making to those experiences.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere. I don’t look at a lot of other people’s events for inspiration. Not that I’m not interested or not that I’m not curious, but I actually find that my ideas come from culture. My ideas come fromseeing art, going to the theater, going to movies, hearing music, being part of fashion experiences. Seeing the world of culture that’s around me, that is much more gratifying than adapting somebody else’s idea that they did for an event. I really stay focused on exposing myself to what’s going on in the world and having an ear and really truly being interested in what’s going on out there. It’s not always very immediate where the idea comes from.Sometimes I see an exhibition and I’m moved by it and I put it into the back of my brain. Then three years from now the right event comes up and all of a sudden that thing that was in that pigeonhole in my mind comes out. Sometimes it’s an immediate response to something. For me traveling, going to see stuff, being out and about, that’s where it all happens. Inspiration hits when you least expect it.
What’s the craziest or most unique thing that you’ve ever designed?
Things that I’m really proud of as an organization is we’ve done a lot of work in the non for profit space and for non for profit galas and we make a big distinction between the difference between decorating and telling a story. I think that our job when we create these installations and the decor is of course to make a room look a certain way and make people feel a certain way within that room. Ultimately I feel like my job is to create a safe set that tells the story of the organization. We do that in a lot of different ways.
I think the biggest example of our work is for the Robin hood foundation.It’s a New York based organization that looks to eradicate poverty in New York city and they’re taking the rich and they give to the poor. It’s not about giving, it’s about empowering and it’s about creating access. The thing that’s important to establish is it’s very large. So it’s a seated dinner for 4,500 to 5,000 people. They come to dinner, they have cocktails, there’s the big presentation, there are films and then there’s a big giant concert after with the likes of the Beyonce’s of the world. It’s at the convention center in New York, which you know is a vast, vast, not incredibly attractive space that we need to turn into something, and you have lots of choices, right? Like one choice is, you make it something that’s really beautiful. That could be a choice. But I always feel like my job here is to actually tell the story of Robin Hood. Several years back we created an idea where in partnership with Robin hood, we sought out $1 million worth of donated items that people in the programs needed. Some of that was pretty self explanatory, it’s food, it’s clothing. Other things were really surprising and moving: alarm clocks, you and I take it for granted. We have an alarm clock and what does that do for us? That gets us to work on time. It gets us to a job interview, but if you don’t have an alarm clock, it’s a little harder to do those things that we take for granted. We made a giant installation out of thousands of alarm clocks that went to people that needed the alarm clock. So all of these items were donated and then they went directly to the programs after. From a design standpoint, what’s tricky about that is you can’t nail into it. You can’t screw into it. You can’t mess up the item because it needs to have a sure life after. So we’d have to come up with all kinds of ways to make these 30 foot tall set pieces where we preserve the integrity of the item in the first place. Very proud of the fact that it was.
A. Very great way of telling the story of all of the different programs that Robin hood is involved with.
B. We were able to rally the community to donating these things.
C. They went to the hands and the hearts of the people that needed the most after. That’s the kind of stuff that makes me really excited about being in the events world. I throw a great wedding. I love that too, the milestones of one’s life are really important to celebrate. Things like the Robin hood foundation where we can really be making a difference is something that I think always remains dear to me and my goals when I wake up in the morning.
You’ve made a great point here in that it’s very easy to get distracted with the mechanics of things when first we need to determine what is the purpose of it, why are we doing it? Right?
Yeah, I think so. I think the why is the key and then the how of course is a big part of that. We extend that to everything that we do. You guys are in Minneapolis and one of my longtime great, great friends are my pals at target. I realized last week that I’ve now been working with Target for 20 years and we also had the occasion last week to create a big event with target in partnership to honor their 20 years of design for all, it’s been 20 years of their designer partnerships. It’s designed for all. That was a great honor to be part of that and having such a journey with them for so many years and then having to really apply the beautiful thinking that really happens behind the doors of Target to what the intentions are and then illustrate that by what we do with the material. It’s both a challenge and it’s great fun. It’s really satisfying to be able to be thinking so conceptually about this stuff.
Target invented the pop up store. Target invented these designer partnerships. There’s a tremendous amount of trailblazing and visionary thinking that have gone into the history of style and many of those things have now been copied by others and everybody brings their own spin to it. The original impetus was really about providing access to great design for everybody. Target is rereleasing product from 20 of the designer partnerships over the last 20 years. Aat the event that we did, we had the occasion to look at that history and see all those products together. One of the things that was mind blowing to me is how fresh it all looks today. Something that was created 20 years ago looks like it was just created last week.
Tell me about, do you have any mantra you live by?
One is one that my parents taught me from an early age, which is that I could do anything that I set my mind to do and I do really believe that to the core. The other one is that it’s just quite all right to break the rules as long as you do it really, really fabulously.
Any advice for newbies starting out?
Work really, really, really hard and no matter what the scale of the event, approach it as if it’s the biggest, most important thing in the world. The special events business is very, very difficult, right? People see the photographs and they see the celebrities and they see the glamour of it all. But at the end of the day, it’s a very, very difficult business. Part of the thing that’s important is to recognize that the hard work that you put in is an investment. You can work really quite tirelessly and you can not necessarily see where it’s going to get to but I promise you if you invest the time and the energy and the love and what you’re doing, it does eventually pay off. Give it your all be present, meet people, follow up with them, continuously create new relationships, and when you do give those relationships, they’re all, honor them with the same kind of devotion you would give to a friendship. Ultimately that pays off on the business landscape front as well.
Pet Peeves: Not being nice to everybody
Pet Peeves: Floor plans not to scale
Super Power: Very very calm
Twitter:The Meeting Minds