Don't miss the Dallas Festival of Ideas

Kate Canales, who oversees SMU's popular Innovation Gymnasium, will be one of the participants in the Dallas Festival of Ideas.

Staff Writers

Dozens of speakers, performers and artists will gather next weekend at Fair Park to engage the public in a conversation about Dallas’ future.

How can Dallas be a better-educated city? A healthier city? A more entrepreneurial city? A more livable city?

The second annual Dallas Festival of Ideas, presented by The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, will take place Friday and Saturday at the Music Hall and at the Women’s Museum in Fair Park. The event is free to the public, with registration at

Here’s a sampling of some of the local educators, writers, entrepreneurs and designers who will draw on their life experiences to share new ideas about how to make life better in North Texas.

Kate Canales

Kate Canales’ graduate students have an unusual assignment: washing dishes at Cafe Momentum on Saturday nights. The nonprofit restaurant provides culinary training to young men convicted of nonviolent crimes. But the program’s organizers are having trouble finding stable housing for the 75 trainees.

That’s where Canales’ students come in. They’re the first group to enroll in her Master of Arts in Design and Innovation program at SMU, and they’re tasked with helping Cafe Momentum solve its housing problem. Under Canales’ tutelage, that means putting down their pens and picking up dirty plates.

By washing dishes, the students get to work alongside the interns, who come from different backgrounds than most SMU students. The students come to understand the challenges that the young men face and why finding stable housing is a hurdle.

Canales takes a similar approach on all sorts of problems, from how to get more young people to vote in Dallas to how to increase ridership on public transportation.

“The methodology we teach is human-centered design, that’s the core philosophy of the program,” she said. “And that methodology demands [the students] spend an enormous amount of time on the front end doing research.”

Canales said she took a human-centered approach herself when it came to designing the new master’s program. She was recruited to SMU from a design firm in Austin when the dean of SMU’s engineering school heard her talk at TEDxSMU in 2011.

She hopes her students will tackle some of Dallas’ most pressing problems, which she’ll address as a speaker at the Dallas Festival of Ideas. “The city has a lot of work to do on big things like race relations and poverty,” she said. “And I’m a really big believer that the way we design neighborhoods leads to certain behaviors.”

Canales isn’t afraid of taking on these big challenges or presenting them to her students. “They see problems in the world they want to solve that don’t have obvious solutions. I want them to take on problems that feel daunting.”

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