Shaping Rhode Island’s Economy

Shaping Rhode Island’s Economy

On Monday RISD hosted Art, Design + Manufacturing, a half-day conference convened to inspire Rhode Island-based educators, business leaders and manufacturers. In welcoming the crowd, Interim President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID noted that advancing trade and the needs of local manufacturers has been part of RISD’s mission since it was founded in 1877. The key industries at the time were textiles and jewelry, whereas Rhode Island’s economy now depends more on transportation, technology and systems design. “Our shared goals are to revamp existing industries in Rhode Island and drive the creation of new ones,” Somerson said.

To further those goals, Executive Director of Continuing Education Greg Victory announced a new RISD|CE certificate program in Product Development + Manufacturing. Slated to launch in January 2015, the program will give adult learners the opportunity to “find creative solutions to real-world problems,” as Somerson put it. Graduates will be prepared for careers in product design, manufacturing and related entrepreneurial pursuits.

“Rhode Island’s economy needs arts and design,” said US Senator Jack Reed in a videotaped statement. “It’s this kind of innovation that creates jobs and will shape our economic future.” The senator also announced a $1.6-million federal grant to fund the creation of a Regional Economic Development Action Plan for Rhode Island.

US Congressman David Cicilline and Executive Director of Commerce RI Marcel Valois addressed the group as well. “Government, business, nonprofit and academic partnerships will help ensure that Rhode Island continues to be at the forefront of advanced manufacturing,” said Cicilline. Valois explained that the next step in forging that path is taking advantage of the state’s position as “an ideal test lab” and using the federal funding to create a center for design and manufacturing. He referred to the proposed center as “STEAMengine” – a nod to both Providence’s historical ties to the railroad industry and the STEM to STEAM initiative RISD started to advocate for adding the arts to the national education agenda promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

RISD alumna and RI Innovation Fellow Amy Bernhardt 95 PR, who is already using her $300,000 fellowship to build local industry, brought the futuristic discussion back to the present. Called Colorfast, her fledgling research and manufacturing facility will support the design and production of digitally printed textiles. As she told the audience at Monday’s conference, she’s now looking for a commercial space in Providence and forging connections with both future clients and people who can serve as local resources.

Interim Provost Pradeep Sharma also spoke, sharing insights about the meaning of the word “design” before splitting the audience into two groups for hands-on design charrettes. “Design is an outcome,” he explained, “but it’s also an interdisciplinary and integrative process. One of the first strategic design decisions to be made in any project is choosing where to innovate.”

Working with Associate Professor of Industrial Design Charlie Cannon and Director of Partnered Research + Programs Daniel Hewett, the two groups then spent about an hour discussing local design challenges and determining the essential questions and next steps needed to further local manufacturing.

The day’s activities wrapped up with the grand opening of Co-Works, RISD’s newest space for making. The bright studio at 169 Weybosset Street is designed as a shared space for RISD students and faculty from every discipline to work collaboratively, explore materials and be serendipitously inspired by each other’s work. Describing Co-Works as a place to showcase the critical making at the heart of a RISD education, Somerson also pointed out that the large windows into the street-level facility are meant to forge a visible connection between the college and the local community.

Simone Solondz

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