Maharam Fellows Work for Social Change
It wouldn’t be wise to poke holes in the plastic-wrapped package now on its way to Blake Hiltunen MFA 14 SC. In a matter of weeks, the graduate student will receive a colony of live honeybees – complete with an active queen – to inhabit the transportable hive that sits in a dusty corner of his studio.
“It’s sort of like the US Postal Service will be sending me a ticking time bomb,” he explains while fiddling with the wooden hive he built. “Whether I’m ready or not, these industrious insects will be ready to build a swarming colony almost as soon as they arrive.”
The fair-haired sculptor is one of nine RISD students to earn a 2014 Maharam STEAM Fellowship in Applied Art and Design, which enables them to pursue summer internships with organizations that don’t typically turn to creative practitioners for help. Since 2012 the New York-based textiles company Maharam has awarded students stipends of up to $5,000 each for internships with government agencies or nonprofit organizations that recognize the value of having artists and designers working with them. Students interested in socially conscious projects find their own internship opportunities and submit detailed proposals outlining how their experience will help strengthen the role of visually acute critical thinkers in helping to improve public policy and address large social issues. Winners then chronicle their experiences by blogging about them over the summer and submitting a final report to Maharam about their discoveries.
Hiltunen has landed a fellowship to collaborate with Erin MacGregor-Forbes, a founder of the sustainable, all-natural beekeeping operation Overland Apiaries in Maine. Together, the duo will construct a mobile “observational” honeybee hive that “will allow visitors to peer into the inner recesses of a colony, which are usually hidden from humans’ view,” he explains. “We also hope to educate people on the vital role bees play in generating over one-third of the world’s food sources. It’s incredibly important that we protect these creatures from farmers’ use of pesticides, which is the direct cause of widespread colony deaths.”
This summer Allison Wong 15 ID will be working with NuLawLab – Northeastern University School of Law’s innovation laboratory – to explore how user-centered design strategies can improve the public’s access to legal services. Also interested in policy, Patricia Dranoff 15 ID will be brainstorming with editors at Porvir, a Brazilian news agency that produces articles on international teaching trends. Specifically, she plans to propose effective marketing tactics to share South American politicians’ views on education reform.
Other summer projects are equally ambitious. Maharam Fellow Mariya Sitnova MID 15 will spend much of the warmer months working to understand contemporary educational trends at the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian X 3D initiative, a groundbreaking project that makes it possible for anyone to 3D print the institution’s most iconic objects. Hannah Koenig 14 PT will research ways to integrate virtual technologies into cultural programs while serving as a designer at the Collaboratory, a new public diplomacy initiative in the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Several Maharam Fellows will be working directly with people in need. Originally from India, Zoya Puri MLA 14 will work with Adyhayan, an NGO that strives to empower residents of dilapidated urban neighborhoods in New Delhi. Whitney Oldenburg MFA 14 PT will work at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, where she’ll focus on the true meaning of health care and research whether deep engagement with making art can help reduce chronic pain.
Interested in the human aspects of architecture, Adria Boynton BArch 15 will work with Massachusetts Port Authority in studying the role of design in resilience – an approach to emergency management that is proactive as opposed to reactive. After studying Massport’s infrastructure and potential vulnerabilities, she will compile a taxonomy of design approaches to resilience and draft design guidelines based on her findings.
Gabriela Epstein 16 IL is also intensely passionate about public safety. The native of Harrisburg, PA – the location of the country’s most egregious nuclear power plant accident – will conduct research on nuclear power, the source of 10% of the world's electricity. According to the illustrator, numerous health studies conducted in the surrounding area over the past 35 years have indicated significant spikes in the rates of cancer and infant mortality due to radiation poisoning. “Odd mutations can still be found in local foliage and fauna,” she notes. “I’ve seen some strange looking flowers in people’s gardens.”
To raise awareness about the dangers of nuclear power, Epstein will interview Harrisburg residents and members of Three Mile Island Alert – a nonprofit agency dedicated to ensuring that nuclear power plants actually adhere to safety standards. She’ll then create a series of web comics detailing the personal stories of the people affected by the tragedy.
“My art won’t be a hard statement that’s 100% against nuclear power,” the articulate artist explains. “But I want people to know that there can be deadly consequences to nuclear energy. I hope this project helps the public understand the impact our environmental choices have both immediately and for generations yet to come.”
Four alumni are recognized in Forbes magazine’s 2018 30 Under 30 list of promising young artists and designers to watch.
In a recent talk, visiting artist Vincent Valdez 00 IL illuminated the process behind his stark and unsettling images of American society.