Tiana Webb Evans
Credit: Bimpé Fageyinbo

Design Changemakers 2021: Tiana Webb Evans Is the Visionary Behind the Visionaries

published Jan 19, 2021
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Credit: Apartment Therapy

The Apartment Therapy Design Changemakers Class of 2021 is made up of 24 of the most talented and dynamic people in the design world. We asked an assortment of last year’s Design Changemakers and Apartment Therapy staffers (and you!) to tell us who we needed to spotlight — see the rest of the list here.

Who: Tiana Webb Evans, cultural producer, writer, and entrepreneur
Nominated by: Lora Appleton, founder of kinder MODERN design gallery and Female Design Council
Where to follow her: ESP Group, YARD CONCEPT on Instagram 

Why Webb Evans is part of the class of 2021: “I am nominating Tiana Webb Evans as she is a key figure in both arts and design, advocating for diversity in the industry and supporting so many of her peers as well as emerging artists and designers. Tiana runs both her successful PR & communications firm ESP Inc, and is involved in a strong combination of corporate communications, strategic partnerships, and client development through innovative programming and events. She is also the founder of the recently launched YARD CONCEPT — a social practice and platform made up of a digital journal, gallery, shop, and happenings. It’s a reflection of her community and this moment. It is a cultural enterprise with a mission to cultivate consciousness through art, design, and community by bringing together artists and designers to have much needed conversations about the creative, spiritual, and artistic journey.

“I’ve worked with Tiana and our projects have always been widely successful. I adore her work, perseverance, and strength as a woman, as a cultural communication and mother of three teenagers. I believe the work Tiana is doing with YARD, and the conversations she is leading with Design Hunting, Art Mamas Alliance, and more offering a fresh take on community and culture, is leading the way in bringing much-needed voices to the forefront. I believe she deserves to be in the Apartment Therapy class of 2021 as she is a changemaker, constantly evolving, supporting her community in a big way, advocating for Black people and people of color, and shows how one can have a long-lasting career in design and art and stay extremely fresh and relevant (without breaking a sweat!). She is promoting change in this industry and bringing a breath of fresh conversations to the forefront.” Lora Appleton, founder of kinder MODERN design gallery and Female Design Council

Credit: Dina Nur Satti
Acacia Vases by Dina Nur Satti of Nur Ceramics.

Think of Tiana Webb Evans, the founder of brand strategy and communications agency ESP Group, as brands’ secret weapon behind the scenes. “I’m a writer. I am a creative. I am a catalyst,” she says. Webb Evans’ client list at ESP Group — which exists at the intersection of art, design, and hospitality — includes prominent international product companies, interior design firms, and design galleries. “I like to push against the grain, and I like to work with people who want to blaze their own path,” she explains.

Webb Evans has more than 20 years’ experience in the art and design industry, and got her start in design at Studio Sofield, working directly with award-winning modernist designer William Sofield as business director. “I was Bill’s right hand, working on contracts, licensing, human resources, operations, and finance,” Webb Evans says. “[Bill is] a legend and forever will be an inspiration.”

Webb Evans’ latest personal project is Yard Concept. Yard (pronounced “yaad”) derives its name from the Jamaican Patois word that roughly translates to “home.” Through the project, Webb Evans drives conversations around art, design, culture, and consciousness via reading circles, artist collaborations, vintage collections, a journal, and other mediums. “There is so much in that word [yaad] that it became this hotbed of creativity for me because I was in the midst of trying to parcel out the idea of belonging and identity. Identity looks very different in Jamaica than it does here,” says Webb Evans, whose parents were born in Jamaica. “Yard became this repository of sorts, where I let it unfold and become what it is now.”

Among other projects, Webb Evans, who is based in Short Hills, New Jersey, has helped curate programming for Art Basel, Faena Festival, and PRIZM Art Fair. The self-described “nerd” says she is always studying something; right now, it’s Caribbean modernism. 

Credit: Courtesy of Yard Concept/Photographer LaQuan Brinson
In Spirit, 2019 by Yard Collective.

Apartment Therapy: What were your design inspirations growing up? What is your inspiration now?

Tiana Webb Evans: My grandparents. Especially now that I’m investigating art and design in Jamaica, I realize their home was modernist. They were older, and so that means my grandparents were very much 20th-century people and they were coming out of that Victorian-esque, post-colonial rigidity [after Jamaica’s independence from Great Britain]. Yet, they were part of a group of people who were part of redefining what it meant to be Jamaican. 

I can remember the furniture. I can remember the clothes. I can remember the attention to detail. It was all very glamorous. So there’s no question, it’s my grandparents.

Then, there’s Bill Sofield. I left a PhD program to work for Bill, and it changed my life. (My family was so confused because if you’re a good Caribbean girl you’re supposed to be a doctor!) I fell in love with architecture and design there. I fell in love with his approach. It was a magical time in the ’90s; Bill was making his visionary way and making his stamp on the world. But the way that he approached things, it was about care and attention to detail and this slow specialness. 

Lately, I’m inspired by two things. One, I am working with a young designer named Mark Grattan, who is the co-founder and creative director of VIDIVIXI. I think he’s going to be a legend. He inspires me. His work is like nothing I’ve seen. 

I’m also excited by modernity. The African presence in modernity is something that I’ve thought about for a long time, and recently, Tariq Dixon from TRNK NYC had an exhibition called Provenanced that brought that forward. So, on one hand I’m excited by this young new talent. And on the other hand, I’m excited by rediscovering ancient sort of African design, design in the Antilles, in the tropics. I am inspired by rediscovering, reimagining, rewriting history a little bit, and sort of bringing some untold ideas and stories forward. 

AT: What’s your favorite project you worked on in 2020, and why?

TWE: Aside from my own projects, one of my clients is based in Copenhagen; Vipp is a home design company run by three generations of family. I’m obsessed with them. There’s just a way they approach life that has really inspired me on a personal level at home. It’s like this luxurious essentialism. So it’s really about choosing these things that are going to last for a lifetime — you solve to that and you design to that. They’re an international design company that makes the most amazing, beautiful stuff, yet they’re not harried. Their children are attended to, their family members are cared for and attended to, their employees are attended to.

But they still get to make cool, visionary stuff all the time. And there was a campaign which hasn’t been released yet — I’m sorry I can’t go into all the details — I concepted for them and it took a little while to get approval, but for them to trust me was a big deal to me. In a lot of ways the project represents a transition from a PR role to a creative concept/brand development role, which is truly where my heart is. Being able to evolve within a client relationship is always really rewarding. It takes a lot of trust.

AT: What three words would you use to describe your work or style?

TWE: Nerdy. Complex. Forward-thinking.

Credit: Courtesy of Yard Concept/Photographer LaQuan Brinson
A Yard Concept reading circle.

AT: Is there a specific piece or design of yours that you think is particularly indicative of who you are or what you’re trying to do?

TWE: The Yard Concept reading circles are really a pure essence of what I’m trying to do. It’s not all art books. It’s not all about design or spirituality or African American culture; they’re just extraordinary moments or thoughts shared by all kinds of different humans. That collapsing of “othering” and the fear to explore, I think is the work. And that’s by design.

AT: What makes you feel at home in your own space?

TWE: My books. My father’s 86-year-old cousin is a philosopher. Recently, he went to her house and he said to me, “There are thousands of books here, Tiana.” And I practically started to hyperventilate. He asked, “So do you want to come down and pack up what you want? And then you can drive back?” From Florida. I live in New Jersey. I almost did it. She studied art at Princeton and she’s a philosopher. That means that their art books are original art books, first edition collectible art books. 

I get into these wormholes of research. Anytime I come up with an idea or I’m starting to think about something, I’d like to be able to pull all the reference texts at a whim and it’s ridiculous. You can read everything that’s going on in my mind with a whole lot of cacophony of madness through what’s happening on my bookshelf. 

AT: How do you think the past year will impact the design world moving forward?

TWE: The past year has been extraordinary for the design world. It has been so closed and has also come kicking and screaming forward. I think design is going to be exciting because there are new voices and new perspectives. Despite what the media showed, there were many who were resistant to what was taking place in June and July — I like to call it “the awakening,” as painful as it was. I think there was a bit of reactivity that happened. For a lot of publications, it was a moment of hyperreactivity. The consciousness that this awakening is going to be beneficial for everyone. And now it’s going to get exciting. I don’t think the shock is over because conversations challenging architecture and challenging design and accessibility to material and technology continue. 

From a consumer side, the silver lining has been that people are conscious of their homes. All people. So I think for our industry, there’s going to be more people engaging. And I think it’s going to make for happier families, happier children. 

I think design is going to take a different priority in the U.S. for the first time in this young country’s history. People are looking for things that are more special, and I think big-box stores are going to have to reengage the artisan. 

I think it’s going to be really good. I’m excited to see what happens. 

Credit: Courtesy of Yard Concept/Photographer LaQuan Brinson
"About Face(s)" Scarves by Tarah Douglas for Yard Concept.

AT: How has 2020 changed your perspective on or approach to your work?

TWE: 2020 gave me a little space, space that I hadn’t had in 20 years. I haven’t had space to myself since my kids — I have a 20-year-old and two teenagers — to rethink how much I need so that I can do the work that wakes me up in the morning and gets me excited. This year has allowed me to scale back certain things, and bring forward other things that create a better balance. 

I’m pushing towards that Buddhist Right Livelihood [of making a living that does no harm to others]. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to do what I’m passionate about all day, every day. I’m not there yet, but 2020 reset what I thought I needed, and allows me to imagine more. It has been a rough year, but that I would say is a silver lining. 

AT: What, in your mind, is the power of good design?

TWE: The power of good design unleashes possibility.

Interview has been edited and condensed.