Recently I spent some time in LA with RISD alum Ilene Chaiken creator of the hit TV series The L Word. Together we visited the site of my old friend from my MIT undergrad years John Underkoffler — one of my dear heroes that merges creative thinking with advanced technologies. John is the visionary force behind a new paradigm for computing where the keyboard and mouse give way for your hands (literally) to navigate large digital information spaces. In the video above we see RISD and MIT collide in a very hands-on way ( smile).
Right now I am engaged in a debate on the Economist.com. Through the process, I recognize that art and design have always been enabled by technology, and that in today’s economy we have to support innovation and new creativity. Technology can be an excellent tool to accelerate the advancement of new ideas. Paint, paper, powertools, rulers, and pencils are all examples of technologies that have facilitated our ability to express ourselves as artists and designers. Please come to the ongoing debate to cast your vote!
I was happy to hear from RISD graduate student and Presidential Scholar Tom Weis about the upcoming “Make it Better Symposium” to be held at Mem Hall on March 14. It has been my experience that student led activities are uncommonly good in ways that are always surprising. This symposium is likely one that is truly “made better” than your average one. Come out to support better design!
I spent a few hours shooting videos today on RISD campus for pre-freshmen to experience together with me a short walk through the world of RISD. On the tour arranged by RISD Director of Interactive Media and alum Eric Meier, I lingered longest at the Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab. The Nature Lab is a constantly curated collection of specimens from nature for freshmen in the Foundation Studies program to see, touch, and taste a myriad of natural phenomena. Butterflies, fish, wood, bone, moose, plants, are all living (or at least preserved) in harmony at the Nature Lab for RISD students to carefully observe and interpret. I felt I was sitting in Google’s database of images of any and every kind for the search term “nature.”
It’s been some time since I had been to Philadelphia, so I was happy to go last week to the Annual Philadelphia Alumni Club Valentine’s Party and to tour the Urban Outfitters/ Anthropologie/Free People complex at the Navy Yard.
At their annual Valentine’s Day party, members of the Philadelphia club had a chance to reconnect, catch up with each other, wish President Mandle well and hear about what is going on on campus. They also got a chance to enjoy some of Chris Jones’ ’52 IA linzer hearts [see photo], along with other assorted goodies!
Brett and Martine Webber [both are ’89/’90 AR] hosted the event in their new offices at 2400 Chestnut Street. With over 60 people in attendance, there was plenty of opportunity to share stories about special projects, reminisce about student life and begin to discuss some ideas for future club events.
We have alumni working in a variety of positions at Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie/Free People, a company clearly committed to adaptive reuse – they’ve renovated 4 large warehouses at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia – and to nurturing the creative energies of their designers. It felt in many ways like being in a studio on campus, with project ideas on display, as well as the organized chaos that surrounds the creative process.
Christina M. Hartley ’74 IL
Director, Alumni Relations
A friend recently pointed me to a film from 2003, My Architect (clip showing above), which tells a kind of “finding my father” story by the son of the late architect Louis Kahn. While watching it, I had a flashback to a movie that came out last year on the typeface Helvetica by director Gary Hustwit. The two films gave me a general context for the depth of interest that can be generated by the creative professions. Also, given popular society’s fascination with the creative challenges of fashion design as in the reality TV show Project Runway and even geek culture’s gravitation to technofashion, it is clear that we are entering a new age where making things matters increasingly as an expression of things to come.
Other trends like DIY or craft culture as exhibited by the incredible success of Etsy and associated moves towards “open source sewing” platforms all point to the general phenomenon of democratizing design. The challenge looking ahead of course is not whether every person in the world will become a designer, but whether great designs will continue to emerge in this century. What are the necessary conditions in society and education to ensure that we will always be raising the bar of creativity higher and higher in this world?
Today I sneaked twenty minutes into my schedule at RISD to experience the much talked about RISD Works store. This unique “retail gallery” features the art and design work of RISD alumni from around the world. RISD alums and store curators Ann Smith (ILL ’03) and Elyse Hradecky (Printmaking ’07) were nice enough to give me an unscheduled tour of the variety of wares available for consumption. Although I was in somewhat of a rush and couldn’t purchase anything due to time constraints, I made a note to come back and shop for a few upcoming birthday gifts.
Today I traveled through a recent book by RISD Professor of Architecture Kyna Leski called The Making of Design Principles. It is an important work that connects the abstract, the built, the real, the raw, and the virtual as a series of distinct pedagogical steps knitted within the studio experience of RISD architecture students. In the book’s foreword, Chair of the RISD Architecture Department Professor Lynette Widder positions much of the uniqueness to the RISD approach as due to the fact that it is embodied as an architecture education within a school of art and design, versus a technology institution. The resulting humanity and depth of the RISD approach certainly shines through. Leski’s book is an exquisitely designed object and challenges the mind along many dimensions: tactile, visual, and spiritual. For the young architect just beginning their career, it is full of many revelations that can move them faster along their creative journey into the future.
I have been recently enjoying this book Double the Ducks by RISD alum and trustee Stuart Murphy. It’s part of a long-running series of books by Stuart on getting children to think about math in the context of simple stories. There are many aspects to consider in the success of realizing such a series with over 3 million books sold – it points to the challenges of mastering the enterprise of creativity for design and art majors just starting out. The creative industries will certainly define the next stages of our economy as technology growth slows (i.e. “newness” as the economic driver), and instead quality of experience gains greater relevance and importance (i.e. “design” and excellence in communicative expression). I look forward to working together with the incredible cast of RISD students, faculty, staff, trustees, and alums in defining this space of advancement as we realize the 21st century Renaissance that is, like the Web, still under construction. Because it’s always good to be part of something that is changing and still growing …