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SPUR Grants Support Site-Specific Research

SPUR Grants Support Site-Specific Research

RISD students and recent alums are using funding from RISD Research to develop interdisciplinary projects with communities around the world.

Jasmine Gutbrod painting a mural

Jasmine Gutbrod 20 FD/MA 21 works on a mural at the DreamSpace Academy in Sri Lanka. 

Is it possible to create fabrics that respond to changes in temperature and humidity at the cellular level? Can pasta be reshaped for more compact storage and made available to astronauts in space? Industrious junior Zoe Lee 24 ID spent the summer exploring both of these questions at the Morphing Matter Lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with funding from a Student Provisional Ubiquity Research (SPUR) grant awarded by RISD Research

hands clad in purple lab gloves hold a petri dish
SPUR funding allowed Zoe Lee 24 ID to work in the Morphing Matter Lab at Carnegie Mellon University during the summer.

“It was exciting to use the skills of creative problem solving, computational and physical prototyping, and critical thinking in a research environment,” says Lee. “My time at RISD has been transformative. I came here thinking I would focus on natural dyes for the apparel industry, switched to industrial design and fell head over heels in love with interdisciplinary collaboration at the intersection of design, STEM and entrepreneurship.”

“We’re excited to support these emerging researchers who untraditionally integrate art and design with ecological, cultural and activist concerns and thus contribute to decolonizing research practices.”

Director of Research Soul Brown

SPUR funding is also driving creative interdisciplinary endeavors for fifth-year Architecture student Leslie Ponce-Díaz BArch 23 and recent alums Jasmine Gutbrod 20 FD/MA 21 and Edward Steffanni MFA 21 PR

“We’re excited to support these emerging researchers who untraditionally integrate art and design with ecological, cultural and activist concerns and thus contribute to decolonizing research practices,” says Director of Research Soul Brown. “Their creative investigations are great examples of how art and design research is flourishing at RISD.” 

Leslie Ponce-Diaz portrait from 2021

detail of tapestry by Ponce-Diaz
Leslie Ponce-Diaz BArch 23 created a 15-foot tapestry (detail shown above) for the Sweet Water Foundation. portrait by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

Ponce-Díaz traveled to Chicago this past summer to pursue research at the nonprofit Sweet Water Foundation, an organization focused on urban agriculture, art and education. As an Urban Ecology Fellow, she expanded on her knowledge of sustainability, regenerative design, creative reuse, food insecurity and community within architecture. 

“My goal was to render the invisible visible and to share what I learned through hands-on experience, field work and conversations with community members.”

Leslie Ponce-Diaz BArch 23

“I illustrated these concepts and my experience on site with a 15-foot tapestry on organic fabric that I presented to the Sweet Water community at the end of the summer,” says Ponce-Díaz. “My goal was to render the invisible visible and to share what I learned through hands-on experience, field work and conversations with community members.”

Edward Steffanni performance piece in the woods

painted wooden piece by Edward Steffanni
An ongoing project by recent alum Edward Steffanni MFA 21 PR incorporates sculptural objects, majolica pieces, performance and video.

Steffanni’s research project, God-Shaped Hole: Explorations of the Queer Religious, took him all the way to northern Italy, where he studied majolica painting as an artist-in-residence at the Faenza Art Ceramic Center, visited holy sites to view frescoes and sculptures and explored parallels between Saint Francis of Assisi and the queer experience. Now that he is back home in Ohio, Steffanni is working on the culmination of the project, converting a rural hunting stand into a queer chapel.

“It is my goal to create work that highlights queer voices outside of major metropolitan areas, reflecting on my own formative experiences in rural America.”

Edward Steffanni MFA 21 PR

“I am interested in the tension experienced by queer people who use concealment to maintain safety and how this relates to nature’s many forms of camouflage and protection,” he explains. “It is my goal to create work that highlights queer voices outside of major metropolitan areas, reflecting on my own formative experiences in rural America.”

Jasmine Gutbrod and community members painting a mural

group shot of Jasmine Gutbrod and Sri Lankan friends
Jasmine Gutbrod 20 FD/MA 21 used her funding to connect with young artists at the DreamSpace Academy in Sri Lanka. 

Fellow alum Gutbrod traveled first to Panama and later to Sri Lanka to test out the affordable, portable microscopy lab she created with research partner Eli Silver BRDD 22 FD. “Funding from the RISD SPUR grant went towards materials required for making the second iteration of the microscope, which was lighter and easier to carry,” she says.

“I... view art and design as valuable tools for community building and empowerment.”

Jasmine Gutbrod 20 FD/MA 21

Gutbrod presented the project at the Digital Naturalism Conference in Sri Lanka this July, where she gathered feedback from scientists, engineers and artists and worked with youth at the nonprofit innovation lab DreamSpace Academy. “I am deeply invested in the intersections of art, education and ecology,” she explains. “I relish the challenge of navigating the borders between disciplines through site-specific research and physical object making and view art and design as valuable tools for community building and empowerment.”

—Simone Solondz

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