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RISD takes to the streets to show 'What We Do'

Bursting the bubble
By MARION DAVIS  |  April 8, 2009

On the waterfront, Ryan Scott Bardsley, a 1998 industrial design graduate, will demonstrate a robot he designed to help train military medics to treat war casualties.

At Market Square, Karin Kunori and Kristen Biddeson, both graphic design students, will show how to make letterpress prints. Outside the Chace Center, Respond/Design, a group focused on sustainability and social justice in arts and design, will be sharing its recent work. And at Frazier Terrace, apparel design student Susannah Hallagan will show her audience how to "make art with your body."

That's just a 20-minute sliver of "What We Do," an unprecedented, student-run event to be held Saturday, April 11 at the Rhode Island School of Design that aims to capture, in a frenzied six hours at six locations, the spirit of Providence's most creative and offbeat college.

From 10 am to 4 pm, with only short breaks in-between, RISD students, alumni, and staff — including President John Maeda — will demonstrate art and design techniques, display their creations, tell stories about projects and companies they've started, and share what inspires them.

There will also be music, from the fairly accessible kind (folk-pop from the band Tallahassee) to an "epic drum circle," an a cappella group, and the experimental SkyJelly. There will be meditation and clapping, zombies, and a water fight. And while RISD people are the main target audience, everyone is invited.

The whole point, says co-organizer Aaron Perry-Zucker, a senior architecture student, is to burst the "RISD bubble" and forge new connections within RISD and in the community.

"We're completely sealed off from the outside world and also, internally, from each other," he says. Since Maeda's arrival, especially. there's been a growing effort to reach out, but "it's all on minute levels that are all disconnected . . . It has to build up, and it has to get to a point where the bubble starts to disappear."

The event grew out of a student's post last fall on Maeda's blog. The new RISD president has been encouraging people at RISD to talk with one another, online and in person, and Justin Rosengarten, a junior in the film/audio/visual program, suggested doing a sort of RISD-wide show-and-tell.

Events like these have become increasingly popular in recent years, from the celebrated TED Conference and online TEDTalks, in which "thinkers and doers" from around the world are invited to speak for 18 minutes, to the BIF Summit in Providence, to Pecha Kucha nights, where each presenter gets to show 20 slides and speak for just over six minutes (Providence will have its second of these on April 22 at the Wolcott Eco-Office).

Maeda liked the concept and, with support from key faculty and staff as well as student leadership, Rosengarten teamed up with Perry-Zucker to make it a reality. They had no idea how it would work, but they knew RISD really needed it. Forget the outside world for a minute — even within RISD, they say, people are so consumed with their own projects, in their own studios, that they rarely connect.

The RISD Student Alliance provided $5000 for the project, and everyone on campus and all alumni were invited to participate. Nearly 80 submissions came in, Perry-Zucker says — a collection "as diverse and as bizarre as we'd hoped." After working out a few logistical issues, they narrowed it down to 72, not counting the three bands playing at the event's end. A detailed schedule is posted online at

All this week, students have been building the presentation spaces on campus. And on Saturday, they'll be shooting videos of every minute at all six locations, to be shared online. Because in what Lucy Hitchcock, a graphic design professor and one of Saturday's presenters, calls a perfect metaphor for RISD, "What We Do" is so overloaded that, at best, you can see one-sixth of the programs.

That's life on campus, she says, every day: "There's always five or six things happening at the same time, and it's all so good."

Related: RISD redefined, Making a musical connection, Worth another look, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Chace Center, Design, John Maeda,  More more >
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