Hands wide open: Open Hand Studio project highlights


Hillary Simon

March 16, 2023

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As a firm committed to Living-Centered Design, we actively seek out partnerships with highly mission-driven organizations. This unwavering focus is reflected in our public interest arm, Open Hand Studio, which provides no or low-cost design services to organizations that may not have access to them otherwise.

For 15 years, Open Hand Studio has been instrumental in empowering organizations to create spaces, strategies, and plans that foster thriving communities. In 2022, our program reached new heights, delivering transformative projects in Dallas, Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and beyond. While each project is unique and special in its own right, they all share the potential to positively impact lives and ignite brighter futures. 

Here’s a summary of some of our incredible Open Hand Studio projects from 2022.

Empowering women to thrive with The Ladder Alliance

One in 3 women have experienced some form of physical violence from a partner. That’s a harsh reality supported by clear data from The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)—which only makes organizations like The Ladder Alliance crucial in our communities. 

Located in Fort Worth, Texas, The Ladder Alliance provides survivors of domestic violence and low-income women the tools to lead self-sufficient, successful and independent lives. Their educational programs, including computer skills and professional development classes, offer new pathways to success.

Upon completion of the Ladder Alliance programs, graduates are rewarded by shopping in the organization’s Success Store and can pick out professional career outfits that will help them feel empowered in that next job interview. For many of these women, this is the first time they’ve been able to shop for career attire.

Ladder Alliance Sucess Store Render 1
The Ladder Alliance Success Stores provide clothing and salon services.
Ladder Alliance Sucess Store Render 3
The Ladder Alliance Success Stores provide clothing and salon services.
Ladder Alliance Sucess Store Render 2
Students in the program collect points through attendance and scores and can use those rewards at the Success Store.

We were fortunate to collaborate with The Ladder Alliance to enhance the beauty, accessibility, and warmth of their Success Store—a space these women truly deserve.

Our design team in Dallas met with Katie Purcell and Valerie Gonzalez at The Ladder Alliance back in April 2022 and started redesigning the store’s entrance experience and interior environment. Their vision is for the store to be a place where these women can celebrate their achievements and feel empowered to enter the workforce. A space where they can shop, feel beautiful and be confident in their ability to succeed in their lives and future job interviews.

Ladder Alliance Sucess Store Render 3
Watch this video to learn more about our work with the Ladder Alliance


  • The Ladder Alliance team has done an amazing job setting up the Success Store space and we are excited to partner with them to elevate these stores to destinations that promote the success and well-being of all the women who visit it.

    Mary Butler CannonDesign

The CannonDesign team has partnered with Christman Millwork and Christman Facility Solutions, local Dallas-Fort Worth based contractors, to help bring the refreshed Success Store design vision to life. Along with the Christman teams, CannonDesign has received numerous, generous material donations to support the project. Those donors include Maharam (wallcovering), Sherwin-Williams (paint), Rockfon (ceiling), Milliken (flooring), Armstrong Ceilings (resin panels), Royer Commercial Interiors (furniture), and more still coming in.

Creating safe space for Penn Hill youth with Red Phoenix in Pittsburgh

We believe that the impact our designs have on communities is paramount. That's why when we learned about a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in dire need of a safe space outside of school for children and young adults, we saw an opportunity for our Open Hand Studio team to make a significant difference.

The closure of the local YMCA in Penn Hills left a void in the community, depriving students of a safe space they had relied on for years. Recognizing the urgent need for a new safe space, Red Phoenix stepped in. Comprised of educators, community members, and local business leaders, Red Phoenix is dedicated to supporting youth in the Penn Hills neighborhood. Red Phoenix turned to the Penn State University Extension for help. It was through this collaboration that the CannonDesign team was introduced to Red Phoenix, and a partnership was born, focused on envisioning a new safe space for local youth. 

This space will not only serve as a safe haven for Penn Hills youth, but will also serve as an opportunity to revitalize a civic asset.
This space will not only serve as a safe haven for Penn Hills youth, but will also serve as an opportunity to revitalize a civic asset.

The space Red Phoenix purchased is the abandoned Aster St Public Library. Our CannonDesign team evaluated the building, walked the site and put together an assessment that reinvisions the space. Along with providing learning and athletic spaces for students, the design also includes offices and meeting rooms for Red Phoenix and other community organizations. 

The initial plan is to apply for grant funding and philanthropic donations to help this community center come to reality. 


  • “This community is really taking a proactive approach to make sure their children have a space after school that can keep them safe, provide a place to do homework, participate in outdoor sports, hang out with friends, and just be a kid. We really think this space will do that and so much more.”

    Sarah Holton CannonDesign

Helping civic entities understand community violence intervention spending with Civic Consulting Alliance

Our projects aren’t always about designing a space—sometimes they’re about equipping organizations with the tools and data they need to better fulfill their mission. That was our role as we engaged the Civic Consulting Alliance (CCA) in Chicago, an organization that provides pro-bono consulting services to public and social sector institutions to help address systemic problems. For this specific project, members of our Blue Cottage of CannonDesign team helped CCA review and improve how public entities are helping neighborhoods and communities across the greater Chicago region that are most susceptible to gun violence.

According to Civic Consulting Alliance's Meredith Sparks Ament, the incidence of gun violence in Chicago has risen significantly in recent years, which mirrors a national pattern. Recognizing the severity of gun violence across the nation, funds from the federal American Recovery Plan Act can be directed by state and local governments towards preventing and intervening in gun violence in communities that experience the highest levels of such violence.

The City of Chicago, Cook County and several Illinois state agencies allocated over $350 million towards evidence-based and community-driven gun violence reduction programs. That’s where CCA came in—to help these groups come together and form the Intergovernmental Working Group to help align evidence-based strategies and devise funding for different neighborhoods.

But as Meredith says, it hasn’t been an easy apples-to-apples comparison. Each agency has had their own data to determine where funding and investment was needed—but not a cohesive one. It gets complicated when you look at the city neighborhoods and then compare them to suburban neighborhoods that have their own municipality. Our Blue Cottage teammates worked with CCA and the different agencies to create a unified dashboard to track investments.

Cca Cap1
This dashboard provided real-time data on shootings in neighborhood and municipalities.


  • It’s really been an amazing partnership with CCA that goes beyond this project but a few others in the span of 10 years. With this project, CCA unified the city, county and state to talk together and open their eyes. Each of these groups had all their own data but not a pool to look at it comprehensively. Our team developed a dashboard they can all look at and make sure funding is not overlapped and spread out appropriately.

    Chris Lambert Blue Cottage of CannonDesign

With this new dashboard, all of these entities can look at the levels of violence in each neighborhood, evaluate the levels of fatal and nonfatal shootings and determine areas that have been receiving funding allocations for community violence interventions. It’s data in real-time that makes sure there are no gaps between the different agencies and that funding is benefitting the neighborhoods most impacted.

Cca Screenshot

Imagining a better space for people with Down Syndrome in St. Louis

When a child is diagnosed with Down Syndrome, there tends to be a lot of questions from the parents and guardians. What does this mean for my child’s future? What kind of education do they need? How can I make sure they are in the best care? The Down Syndrome Association of Greater St Louis (DSAGSL) is equipped not only to answer those questions but provide a beautiful accepting space for families. 

That’s why it was exciting when the DSAGSL moved into a bigger space in 2021. This allows them to serve more than 2,000 individuals in the St. Louis region throughout every stage of life, but there was a lot of work to be done to make this new space feel like home for their clients.

06 Program Space 1
Extensive use of glass establishes a highly visible program space with extensive daylighting.
01 Family Room 1
This will be a comfortable space with residential details that feature a mural design behind a large sofa.
05 Open Work Cafe 2
The cafe will be a dynamic space with abundant daylight that establishes visual connections to the main program space.

Our CannonDesign St. Louis team took the time to listen to the needs of these families and provide a design that revitalizes the space to be more welcoming, warm, playful, accommodating and inspiring. The team brought in ideas that infused more natural light, optimism, energy and possibility in the space. Those with Down syndrome benefit greatly from interactive, hands-on and visual teaching tools. The hope is the new design will incorporate many various learning spaces complete with games, iPads, educational tools and video conferencing capability. 


  • Working with the CannonDesign team was such a pleasure. Even though we are a small non-profit organization, I felt respected and heard as we worked together to create a vision for our new office space. They made time for us and delivered beautiful design concepts based on the unique needs of our community. When it came time to move forward with the remodel, the team thought about our organization's needs first and connected me to all the right people to get the job done.

    Erin Suelmann Executive Director for Down Syndrome Association of Greater St Louis

Improving maternal health outcomes for black mothers with Jamaa Birth Village

Our St. Louis team reunited with the Jamaa Birth Village in Ferguson, MO for a second project—building on the success of the Equal Access Midwifery Clinic we designed previously via Open Hand Studio. 

Jamaa is now expanding its model of care to include a birthing and postpartum retreat center just a block away from the current building. The vision is simple: turn the property into small, hut-like structures that allow moms and their families to be cared for up to a week past the birth. CannonDesign is leading the project in partnership with several St. Louis-based members of our Inclusive Partner Program.

Jamaa Rendering
Watch this video to learn more about our work Jamaa Birth Village

Supporting LGBTQ+ students in Michigan 

The Michigan Department of Education’s (MDE) LGBTQ+ Students Project is focused on empowering and equipping Michigan schools to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ students, their families and the educators who serve them. It is the only program in Michigan of its kind, and states across the country turn to it as a model for how to provide training, resources, and best practices for supporting their LGBTQ+ students using an intersectional lens and social justice framework. Since its inception, the project has trained more than 6,000 school & health personnel representing 508 districts in almost every county in Michigan. 

Our Blue Cottage of CannonDesign team had the privilege of working alongside the project's strategic partners—Michigan Department of Education (MDE), Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH), and Roots for Change—to help build on this momentum and create a strategic roadmap for increased engagement, particularly among school districts that primarily serve students of color and/or are located in rural areas.

Through a visioning workshop and subsequent collaborative workshops with community partners, our team identified and prioritized the challenges and opportunities facing the project, ultimately creating a time-based actionable plan to guide the organization's future grant proposals and funding strategies. Our inclusive engagement approach serves as a roadmap for the project to reach more communities and strengthen systems of support for LGBTQ+ students in Michigan and beyond.


  • I have appreciated working with CannonDesign so much. Their thoughtfulness, creativity, commitment to collaboration, and their desire to ensure our needs are being met throughout the process have been exceptional and extraordinary.

    Kim Phillips-Knope Project Lead, Michigan Department of Education, LGBTQ+ Students Project
We are honored to have played a part in shaping the future of this critical program, ensuring that all LGBTQ+ young people can feel safe, supported and empowered to thrive in school.