Monday, May 18, 2009

the solution to all our problems

I went into this class really feeling strongly about the fact that RISD lacked community. Throughout my investigation around campus, with students, just starting to observe the very nature of RISD I’m not convinced there really is a problem. Perhaps it is our relationships with episodic affairs that make it charming to complain about the void of consistency in our public lives. Perhaps pointing out that we don’t have time to really connect with all the opportunities around us somehow reflects positively on our personal dedication to our work. Certainly this can’t be true for all, communities exist here, thrive here, just like anywhere else, bikers, motors or  not, hipsters, students, connections are all around us. So maybe I won’t reflect on the fact that I’m failing to reach out as much as I should, honestly I just don’t have the time.

So if it’s not that the networks don’t exist, what is it that makes students feel isolated? Maybe is just the simple fact that this course began during winter, a common time for seasonal depression, or maybe not. Even during winter you’d hard pressed to look around RISD and not find at least five posters about something going on that weekend. And I’m aware that events don’t necessarily mean a functioning community is there, but at least people are actively trying to bring people together here constantly.

I do want to discuss what I feel like is the most controversial solution, a permanent student space. What would it be? Is it a good idea? Would anybody go? Hearing stories about The Pit makes me think RISD needs to go back to that kind of space. As it has been described to me on multiple different occasions The Pit wasn’t clean, wasn’t fancy, but had good coffee, and cheap food. It was gritty, and quick, it didn’t project any kind of RISD image in the clean-cut kind of traditional sense. And RISD doesn’t have anywhere like that anymore; it’s as if we have suburbanized our campus. There really isn’t any place other than maybe CarrHaus, or the Tap Room that doesn’t feel like a completed RISD regulated and branded space. So why is an institutionalized space, designed and run, clean and nice, furnished, the solution? Why is RISD so barren of real inspiration in a way, there are so many beautiful things being made here every day and you would never know if you didn’t take the effort to look under the RISD emblem. But whose fault is that? Certainly the institution is to blame in one way, the representation of RISD as a packaged liberal arts style college interferes and hinders, I think, a vast expanse of ingenuity that could occur here.  What does RISD gain from presenting an image of controlled creativity? And what does it risk losing? On the other hand it’s the students, some are getting out there and some aren’t. There is not just one motivation for getting a RISD degree, not everyone comes here to become a part of anything greater than completing their academic requirements. And for the people that are actively trying to be a part of Providence as a whole, have the ability to do so, even if they use their workload as an excuse not to.

I think it’s great that people care about the students here, and want them to have a better quality of live, but the patterns of living in Providence run much deeper than any kind of social structure constructed by RISD students alone. And any kind of spatial solution, could never truly be permanent, or solve all of the social constructs we have to break through here. It’s fair to say that because we function day by day, project by project, that temporal things seem to fit our way of life.  I really think affinity groups are things that can work, maybe they don’t have a voice loud enough to alter anything directly right away, but they provide students with the idea that they aren’t the only ones who care about things other than their latest project. If there is one thing RISD is truly lacking it a spirit of activism, or rebellion, things like affinity groups can be outlet for more revolutionary kind of thinking, especially if they were recognized by the institution but not controlled by it. Something like communal workspace is an intriguing solution my only concern with that proposition is the mass chaos I can see in its future.  It would no doubt provide a great solution for bringing people together and in an ideal world provide the perfect student space.

Monday, May 11, 2009



Part of what makes RISD special is the density of diverse and creative people. Ironically, RISD students rarely get to exchange ideas and share work with each other outside of our daily routine or path.

A recurring theme in the conversations about community on campus is that they exist primarily in departmental studio space. These communities are created through close proximity, repetition, shared experience, and shared passion.

Student departmentalization occurs at the beginning of sophomore year. As students are immersed into their department’s space, ways of thinking, and ways of working, they become more and more a part of a specific community. It is important to have a core community, a home space, but to gain a more broad art and design education, communication across all departments is needed.

During freshman year, students are totally mixed in their foundation studios. While this is successful in creating diverse classes where students with totally different ideas about art and design work together, I think this system lacks home or ownership. Classes are taught in the same classrooms and workspaces are shared. If foundation type studios were required every semester in addition to specific major studios it might allow for both ownership of major studio spaces and stronger cross-departmental relationships to form.

These required studios could be similar to those during foundation year (meaning 2D, 3D, drawing related courses) but could be more specific and group based. For example, every junior could be required to take a sled-building studio fall semester, and at the end of the semester would participate in a class-wide sled race. This type of system not only could help create relationships between different majors, but also would allow students to stay well rounded. In addition, specific, quirky studios could inspire excitement in classes as well as honing basic foundation skills in a different way.






On a totally different note, anonymous community creates honest conversation and work. In private common areas like bathroom stalls, elevators, and stairwells, graffiti collects and grows. As it grows, layers of different marks and messages begin to show a history of conversation by people only known by their handwriting and the color of pen they used. This type of communication can, when allowed to build, not only create an immense and beautiful 2D and 3D work, but also meaningful and honest conversations. If the school stopped periodically cleaning certain locations around campus, it would allow for these spaces to become rich and reflect currently and historically on the students who used those spaces.

5 qualities

For RISD to have a “student space” on campus it would require several core characteristics in order to be successful. Success, in this case, meaning being accepted as a social gathering place and utilized by a diverse group (departmentally, ethnicity, age, affiliation, etc.).





            For students to consistently come to a place and care about a place they need to feel a sense of ownership and belonging. A potential student space at RISD needs to, first and foremost, reflect the people who use it. Whether that is the selection of beer, events being held, or work being shown, the space needs to constantly evolve to seem both important and fresh.

            Possible ways of creating a sense of ownership to the space is to allow the space to be controlled by students. An organization like student alliance could take part in controlling the space. Also, the space could have shows of current student work ( like carr house) both departmental and not. In addition, the space should allow for some type of spontaneous evolution (ex: bathroom stall walls) where another layer of communication and community could grow.




            Because studio work plays such a huge role in life at RISD, a student space needs to cater to this fact. The space could address this issue both physically and abstractly. The space could physically have a common shop and work space open to all departments and years, and be monitored 24 hours a day. Also, it could be a place where elective classes are held to bring different majors in one studio. Abstractly, the space could be open 24 hours a day to serve a student body that abides by no sleep schedule. During these hours it could serve good coffee, food, and supplies.                        




            Convenience is important in bringing RISD students into a common space. During most of the student interviews, students said that places like dining halls and the library were places were they felt a sense of community (outside of studio). A student space should include food, coffee, and supplies to attract students. This already exists at the RISD store/Watermark, however it does not attract students outside of being necessary to survive. Places where students go to, should be brought inside a student space (ex: Blue State Coffee @ the Brown bookstore).

            Also, convenience should be reflected in other features in or about the space such are location, type of space, open hours, and events.


            I understand it is a cliché to say this, but alcohol is a must to create a successful student space. This could be done in different ways, but alcohol would combine a lot of the other characteristics mentioned before (ownership – common place to drink, work/convenience – close location to relieve stress). It could be a subsidized (or non-subsidized) bar for students only, a place that sells alcohol, or a B.Y.O.B. space. Administrative issues aside, if there were a school run bar, especially a subsidized school run bar, it would be immensely popular and a great place to socialize.


Any student center at RISD cannot be labeled "student center." As artists and designers, we like to create our own space, we can't be told where to be social, where to have community. Like the current "student center" at the RISD store, if a space is labeled incorrectly it will be completely rejected.


Five Things

So, if RISD were to design and construct a student center. What are the five indespensible elements that would be necessarry for it's survival and viability?

I should start with this: Over the passed couple of weeks I have finally been able to begin to answer the question, 'What do I want from my education that I am not getting?'. Or to put if more pointedly, 'When considering the obsence amount I am paying for tuition, where is RISD falling short?'.

Some of my grievances are: That I can't go to a school run dining area for anything resembling a nutritious, fresh, grown-up meal, nor can I eat it somewhere that doesn't smell like a junior-high school cafeteria. I'm a grown-ass individual that pays a whole bunch of money to be here, don't I deserve fine dining experiences?

That I am trapped at a desk the size of a bathroom sink, elbow to elbow with others trapped at desks the size of a bathroom sink, and expected to produce inspired, well-crafted projects.

That I have to pay exorbitant prices for prints in studio.

That I am not getting the forward thinking, cutting-edge education that was promised by the RISD website and brochure.

The ability to move freely (in an academic sense) and design the curriculum that best serves my educational desires.

So, with these points in mind (and sometimes not) a successful student center should be equipped with the five following elements:

1. A dining area not resembling in appearance or odor a junior high cafeteria that serves grown-up food. That they serve alcohol would be an added bonus.

2. Student services offices: academic advising (for our self-designed curriculum), OPE, OSL, GSA, UGSA.

3. Music venue (with a bar).

4. A proper bookstore.

5. Both indoor and outdoor spaces for gathering and interacting.

In closing, we all know a campus bar would be killer, but I'm not sure the student center is the place for it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Placin the Loom

At RISD overarching community is lacking, it exists departmentally but not school-wide. This is no revelation to those participating in this course or following our blog. All the research and discussions that have taken place over the throughout the semester all reflect this theme. People feel a departmental sense of community but are disappointed at the lack of RISD-wide community. The community structure at RISD is tribal and neither the curriculum nor the physical layout encourages the formation of a cohesive “nation”.

If one looks at a tapestry from six inches away they see the individual threads. From a foot patterns emerge. From ten feet its entirety can be taken in. In its entirety it is much stronger visually as well as physically. The tapestry in its entirety can draw us in from a much greater distance than an individual thread. After being drawn in fro afar we tend to step in and out exploring it on its different levels; its story/message (if there is one) or large pattern, the smaller patterns that make up the larger, the type, color and character of the individual threads that make up the small patterns and the method(s) of construction. In skilled hands a collection threads can be woven into tapestry that possesses great integrity and beauty.

Tasked with exploring better methods of weaving the individual RISD “threads” into a more cohesive “tapestry” this semester’s work has brought many issues and possible openings to the surface. Some of the problems that have risen to the top, in my opinion, are; the question is where to place the proverbial loom and how to structure the weave.

As I have stated before in the blog the strongest sense of community I feel at RISD is in the shops. Perhaps this is a result of our trade school history. Whatever the reason the fact is that at RISD shops are places where community thrives. People are constantly sharing knowledge, opinions, food and lending a hand when needed. They are places that are often filled with revelry but also misery, victory and defeat, comradery and animosity, acts of generosity as well as selfishness. Both the goods and ills of these places make them lively and interesting. One can witness someone struggle, be at the verge of failing and/or giving up then watch those around them drop what they are doing and come to their peer’s aid and save the day. People share in the good and the bad and it is these commonly experienced triumphs and victories that bring us together. For better or worse life at RISD revolves mainly around the production of things be they paintings or chairs, scale models or dresses. The various shops/work spaces are a necessity at RISD and creation is what we all have in common.

Successful communal spaces are ones that people come to out of necessity. Spaces they visit frequently due to the necessity and allow for casual interaction with others. These frequent, casual interactions allow relationships and understanding to form, both are essential to forming strong community. The shops do this but due to the fragmented nature of our school it is departmental and “outsiders” are prohibited. This is yet another obstacle that inhibits interdepartmental interactions. Departmental shops also translate to divided assets and jealousy.

I propose that the shops be centralized into one location. This would allow for pooling of assets and resources, which would provide access to the best equipment. Instead of spending funds to acquire five lesser pieces we could acquire two top notch ones. Centralized communal shops do pose some logistical problems. Each shop has a technician responsible for its operations. Instead of having one shop tech present from 9-5 they could work in shifts extending the presence of these knowledgeable professionals, who instruct and advise as well as keep the shops running, to cover the full shop hours. More monitors would be on the floor at any given time maximizing eyes, ears and advise. Dealing with which students have clearance to operate which machines is challenging within the individual departments let alone school-wide. To deal with this key card check-in at monitor stations could be implemented immediately identifying what each student was trained on and alerting the monitors. Equipment training techniques vary from department to department this causes a problem. To solve this problem a standard lesson plan will be developed assuring that all students, regardless of department will receive the same level of training. These classes will be inter-departmental. This formula will encourage interdepartmental relationships to develop organically, through common goal, interest and need, in a classroom setting as well as outside of class time.
I believe that this centralized shop system will create an ideal environment for cross-pollination of thought and inspiration to occur, which in my opinion will lead to, at the very least an expansion of perspective if not, stronger work. It also acts as a sort of pilot program for inter departmental studies such as the BRAIDS program proposed by one of my classmates.

Five essentials for an interactive space at RISD

The Artist Ball is one of the largest events at RISD. It provides a space for students to step away from their work and have fun. Although departmental hybrid classes have the ability to introduce students to one another, RISD lacks fun student social engagement. Students are tired of listening to people lecture all day, they want to mingle, they want to talk.
RISD should think of itself as an educational institution, not a business. We endure an intense curriculum. I don’t want to talk about art and design all day everyday. RISD invests so much time inviting guest artist and designers to speak. Sadly, not that many people show up. Its simply too much and students are too tired. The space doesn’t need to be designed, all it needs are the core ingredients that have brought people together for ages.
-live music

Proposal: Arts and Music Festival

Of the many complex structures we discussed in class, only two remained essential for any event, drinks and food. RISD has the outdoor real estate both physically and aesthetically. I don’t understand why it can’t use it to provide the space (volume) and place (providence waterfront) and promote interactions via music, arts and food. Students don’t care about water fire, it’s boring as hell. Is creepy goblins and ambiguous eastern music the only thing Providence has to offer, this is a joke. There needs to be an event which encompasses RISD, Brown, JWU, and Rhode Island College. Not everyone attends Spring weekend at Brown because there is nothing to take away, or take home. I think RISD can bridge that gap by providing an experience based on its variety of students interests and backgrounds.
The Place: RISD Campus.
The Space: Market Square, the Water Front. All streets should be closed off. South Main, Weybosset, College Hill. These areas will provide the space for food drinks and areas to sit. The streets should appear as a promenade. Free Parking spaces will be available on event hand out.
The Time: Annually, every Fall.
So incoming students have the opportunity to meet other students from other colleges.
The Food: Everything. No RISD caters crap, Portfolio or MET food unless it’s free. The food should exhibit an abundance of cultural, historic and economic diversity. This can be provided free from local restaurants as a way to advertise. Indian, European, Asia, Pacific etc.. Whoever we can get. Restaurants located on Thayer, Wickenden, South Main and the West Side are encouraged to participate. (Especially the West Side, South American) Kettle corn is a must!
The Music: Rhode Island college has a tremendous Music Program. They can provide several pieces which will be performed outside, not in the auditorium. I am guessing Brown may also have a music department. There are many local bands who can also participate, they can be sponsored by local music halls,
-Firehouse 13
-Possibly a revival of The Living Room

The Art: Several galleries will be open to the public provided there are maps which can easily show where and when the artwork will be displayed. Art should be kept indoors to protect from wind, water heat etc. Unless the piece can be exhibited outdoors.
The Performances: All colleges can perform. The stage will be market square. There can also be performances in the auditorium.
-Brown/Jwu and local B-Boys dance crews.
-Other dance crews (RIC, AS220)
-Poetry slams
-Soap-Box Derby?

The interactions:
These will be inspired by the interests we share. Sign-ups for clubs both college related and non-college related will be available, not just RISD/BROWN. Networking will occur via email, facebook, and mass event text messages to promote future events. I think RISD has invested too much time focusing on itself. It should provide to everyone it's most inherent quality, its space and place.