New Grant Program Unites RISD Faculty with External Partners to Supercharge Research

Interior Architecture students work on large model of the Pell Bridge

Collaborating with arts and cultural organizations in Mexico. Partnering with a startup in the Azores to bring biofibers to market. Using graphic design and digital storytelling expertise to update a critically important public humanities project. These are just a few of the RISD faculty-led research projects that are advancing thanks to the newly launched Expanded Field Fund (EFF) offered through Research & Strategic Partnerships. 

“The Expanded Field Fund grants support activity that reaches outside the RISD community while at the same time producing new knowledge here at RISD,” says Katherine Cooper, associate director of Strategic Partnerships.

Offered for the first time in 2023, the grants awarded up to $10,000 for partnerships in art and design, technological advancement and sustainability. Over a dozen proposals were reviewed by a jury including Cooper; Vice Provost for Strategic Partnerships Sarah Cunningham; Christine Kuan, president and executive director of Creative Capital; and Harold Steward, executive director of New England Foundation for the Arts. Including external jurors helps faculty craft their proposals with an outside audience in mind, Cooper says, and gets innovative RISD research in front of art and design experts. 

“This new grant opportunity recognizes RISD faculty connections to communities beyond the immediate campus ... .”

Sarah Cunningham, Strategic Partnerships
exhibition space at nonprofit Fundcion Casa Wabi
The exhibition space at Fundación Casa Wabi, one of several Mexican arts organizations Associate Professor Adela Goldbard is tapping for the creative hub she is building.

“We know that RISD faculty members reframe and expand our ideas of what is possible in arts and design,” Cunningham says. “This new grant opportunity recognizes RISD faculty connections to communities beyond the immediate campus, to support intentional, rich resonances between individual research paths and partner organizations.”

Some of the Expanded Field Fund projects will build on existing research, while others, like that of Adela Goldbard, associate professor of Experimental and Foundation Studies, will launch new initiatives. Goldbard’s project, Partnerships in Mexico: Art, Collaboration,and Sustainability, will explore possibilities for building a creative project hub in Mexico. She will travel to three cultural and arts organizations—the artist-run Rancho la Casa de las Piedras in San Luis Potosí, the nonprofit Fundación Casa Wabi in Puerto Escondido and Centro de las Artes de San Agustín, the first ecological arts center in Latin America—to lay the groundwork for programming that explores the organizations’ shared interest in social justice, collaboration, sustainability and ecology.

“Partnerships with these organizations would allow RISD students to engage with alternate ways of making, learning and knowing and to center epistemologies from the Global South that decenter the Western canon,” Goldbard says. 

Derrick Woods-Morrow, Schiller Family Assistant Professor in Race in Art and Design and assistant professor of Sculpture, Painting and Textiles, aims to develop his project, Speculative Etymologie(x) Firm—Charging Port, over the next two years. Building on prior research with humanitarian, public health and migrant advocacy groups who serve queer African migrants and asylum seekers, Woods-Morrow plans to create an interactive website, film, publication and installation that address the historical erasure of Black queer lives lost during the transatlantic slave trade. 

Emmet Till project draft designs for mobile app
Rene Payne is leading the team in upgrading the look and feel of the smartphone app for the Emmett Till Memory Project.

Rene Payne 83 GD, a critic in Graphic Design and director of multidisciplinary design agency included, will use her grant to redevelop the Emmett Till Memory Project (ETMP), a website and app that teaches the public about the life, murder and legacy of Till, a Black teenager who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after a white woman accused him of whistling at her outside of a grocery store. Payne, working with recent graduates Zöe Pulley MFA 23 GD and Jon Chen 23 SC, plans to make the ETMP compatible with emerging technologies and adapt its storytelling and presentation so it can reach a broader audience.

Professor of Architecture Jonathan Knowles, who conducts cutting-edge research on the use of biomaterials in products and buildings, will use his Expanded Field Fund grant to formalize a partnership with Innovation Green Azores. The organization creates alternative materials from an invasive plant’s fibers to counter plastic pollution and the impact of non-native plants on Azorean ecosystems. Knowles foresees creating an international think tank focused on disseminating and supporting research in biomaterials, studying ways to transfer the technology to the marketplace and jointly approaching incubator programs for additional support. 

“RISD faculty lead the way in finding novel solutions to critical problems.”

Katherine Cooper, Strategic Partnerships

Professor of Interior Architecture Liliane Wong will use her Expanded Field Fund grant to share methods for sparking  inclusive community conversations for adapting and changing infrastructure at the Safe Bridges for All transportation conference in Louisville, KY in 2025. Wong’s team will share how their multi-year Crossing the Pell project used participatory exhibitions to solicit community input on adapting the Claiborne Pell Bridge in Newport, RI for bike and pedestrian access.

“These conversations take place regionally, nationally and globally with partners who offer insights, knowledge and practical experience,” Cunningham says. “We hope the Expanded Field Fund program will make such shared endeavors more visible and accessible on and off campus.” In addition to the Expanded Field Fund, Strategic Partnerships works with sponsored and partnered studios, design labs, corporate partnerships and more, all with the goal of developing long-term engagements with outside organizations that benefit faculty and students.

Adds Cooper, “RISD faculty lead the way in finding novel solutions to critical problems. We want to ensure that every RISD faculty member has the support needed to serve as a primary investigator for a strategic partnership that will multiply the positive impact of their work.”

Gillian Kiley / top photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH
February 29, 2024

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