Opening Doors for Young Artists

POD students at work in the Steel Yard

“Try using the black slip,” ceramics instructor Fred Gorman 85 IL* tells students in his Project Open Door (POD) workshop at the Steel Yard. “It’s nice and thick, which makes it easy to carve.”

“The project builds on RISD’s existing relationship with the Steel Yard... providing creative teens with facilities, instruction and hands-on experience.”

Associate Director Lauren Allen

Gorman is team-teaching with fellow ceramist Lindsay Weitzman as part of a new summer program for local high school students funded by a Community Collaboration Grant made possible through RISD’s Center for Community Partnerships. “The project builds on RISD’s existing relationship with the Steel Yard, enhancing POD’s programming capabilities and providing creative teens with facilities, instruction and hands-on experience,” POD Associate Director Lauren Allen MA 14 explains. “And the Steel Yard has specific scholarship opportunities for queer, trans, Black, Indigenous and BIPOC students, which supports RISD’s social equity and inclusion priorities.”

another POD student at the Steel Yard
Mary O, a rising senior at Classical High School, works with ceramics for the first time.

High school juniors and seniors in the class are trying out different techniques throughout the week, making coil pots, pinch pots and slab forms and even throwing pots on the wheel. “It’s a well-rounded introduction to ceramics,” Gorman says of the class, “and it’s really fun for us to watch students take it to the next level.”

woven paper project from architecture class
Aspiring architects in Violet’s summer class begin building 3D models using paper and other basic materials.

This is just one POD class running this summer. Rhode Island teens are also exploring toy and game design with instructors who work at Hasbro, weaving on the loom with RISD and POD alumna Lyza Baum 16 TX, working with stained glass with instructor Bridget Provan MA 22 and exploring the foundational elements and skills necessary for designing the built environment in a four-week class called Architectural Anatomy taught by RISD grad student Alexis Violet MArch 23.

“We’re working on basic techniques like drawing, cutting and making models in an effort to translate abstract concepts into physical reality.”

Instructor Alexis Violet MArch 23

“We’re working on basic techniques like drawing, cutting and making models,” Violet says, “in an effort to translate abstract concepts into physical reality.” Students are investigating 2D and 3D representation techniques and experimenting with such simple materials as Bristol paper and cardboard.  

On a steamy Tuesday afternoon, the class gathered along the Providence River outside the Project Open Door studio to study the site where they will situate the pavilions they are designing. Violet passed out maps of the area and advised students to “include major land features, existing site materials, vehicular patterns, vegetation and views” as they sketched out their plans.

POD students in Violet's architecture class

Alexis Violet confers with a POD student
POD students in Violet’s Architectural Anatomy class review examples of project site maps before heading outside to make their own along the Providence River.

Project Open Door was founded by former Teaching + Learning in Art + Design (TLAD) Department Head Paul Sproll back in 2005 in order to increase access to high-quality arts education for public high school students in Rhode Island’s urban core. The program is now headed up by Allen with support from current TLAD Department Head Shana Cinquemani. This summer, five POD participants received full scholarships to attend RISD’s six-week Pre-College Program, one funded entirely by longtime program supporter Hasbro.

Paul Sproll and Shana Cinquemani
Former TLAD Department Head and POD Founder Paul Sproll was feted by new Department Head Shana Cinquemani and the RISD community in June.

“Throughout his tenure at RISD, Paul was dedicated to the development of POD as a space that offered teens an opportunity to pursue their artistic practice, engage with RISD and see a future for themselves in higher education,” says Cinquemani. “POD is absolutely that space. It also provides opportunities for TLAD graduate students to develop as teaching artists. POD truly brings RISD’s vision of community engagement to life.” 
When Sproll officially retired earlier this summer, grateful alums from both programs gathered at Woods-Gerry House to celebrate his achievements and the work of POD students past and present.  
viewers take in POD student work at a show in Woods-Gerry Gallery

photograph of man in purple mesh top
A June exhibition in Woods-Gerry Gallery presented the work of recent POD alums, including this piece by Jada Rodriguez, who is currently studying photography at NYU.

“POD completely changed the course of my young adult life,” says alum Naylea Hernández 24 PT, who is currently a Painting major at RISD. “Growing up in a low-income community in Providence, finding productive things to do after school was always a challenge.”
Fellow POD alum and Mass College of Art and Design graduate Sina Seri adds, “When I became a student at POD, it was the first opportunity I had to work in a studio setting with high-quality instruction and materials. If it wasn't for POD, I don't think I would have gone on to pursue a career in the art and design field.”
Simone Solondz / photos by Lauren Allen and Isabel Roberts

August 16, 2022

Related Stories

Project Open Door teams up with Hasbro to provide area teens with an intensive, all-virtual toy and game design workshop.

Grad students committed to becoming teachers are developing alternative curricula and connecting with high school students remotely.