Breaking Out of the Box

Two new initiatives provide students a unique pathway of experience

UNC Asheville, like the city in its name, is known for doing things a little outside the box. Call it an innovation center, a design lab, a fabrication facility or a makerspace, the university will soon have two new spaces to call home and to create new things. These makers resource centers will take students off campus and into their creative careers, and as far as coming out of the box, they may well blow the box away.

The Creative Fabrication and sculpture classes combine art and engineering. Students Emily Beall and Ian Arlen share stages of the process.The first space, which will be a place where people in diverse professions come together to design, test, prototype and create collaboratively, is a nearly 12,000-square-foot facility in the River Arts Makers Place (RAMP) scheduled to open this August. 

The second space, due to start operations in 2018, is called the Center for Creative Entrepreneurship (CCE) based at The Hive AVL, a property development initiative of The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design (CCCD) in downtown Asheville. Once complete, both facilities will reshape the experience and marketability of students in art, engineering, computer science, new media and other majors.

These new off-campus creative spaces offer students an incredible pathway of experience. They benefit from new, much larger spaces and tools to develop their expertise. Access to collaborators, community networks and entrepreneurial resources ensures their work is refined and improved as they take the future into their own hands.

Cross-disciplinary projects in Creative Fabrication and Sculpture taught by professors from several departments this past spring gives a glimpse of what the future holds in these spaces.

In this class, Corey Pullium, a junior majoring in mechatronics, partnered with art major Jeb Hedgecock, also a junior. With two other members, the team created a prosthetic hand using soft robotics. 

Pulliam created a soft gripper; Hedgecock made sure the design was functional and beautiful. Another team member designed the new product logo. Each team member came to the class with very different points of view, and they not only created a very cool product, they learned about team work, listening and collaboration.

“I was looking for an outlet in research for soft robotics and I wanted to combine that with art,” said Pullium. “Working on a small team like this and seeing something through is huge. I know it will help me get a job in this area.”

Hedgecock plans to become a freelance sculpture artist. He knows that working with other team members and learning computer technology and engineering are critical to his success. 

Both students are eager to work in the new facility this fall. The dramatically larger space, new equipment, and opportunity to work alongside professional craft people are all game changers.

The Vision Keeper  
Brent Skidmore is assistant professor of art and art history and one of the driving forces behind STEAM at the RAMP and CCE. An accomplished artist and woodworker, innovator and networker, he is immersed in the Asheville creative community. He’s nurtured the vision for these initiatives for nearly a decade. 
“It all started with a dire need for a physical plant,” he recalled. “I began to meet people at RAMP and talk to other departments who also had a collaborative vision, and then we received three generous grants.”
“The facility and equipment will provide a great start-up environment where students can develop prototypes and portfolios,” said Skidmore. “And the synergy, professional connections and collaborations give them a great advantage, helping them better define career and life choices.”

A RAMP to Innovation

Located less than a mile or so from campus, the university space (tentatively called STEAM @ RAMP to capture the interdisciplinary convergence of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) will be part of a 100,000-square-foot building shared with creative neighbors, including Cheap Joe’s Art Supply and Astral Designs. Multiple working artist and design studios, and a proposed glass-blowing space will also be onsite.

The new facility is funded by a $500,000 grant from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, an equipment grant of $400,000 from Duke Energy Foundation and $100,000 from North Carolina State University.

Sara Sanders ’11 is the university’s engineering lab manager, and an alumna. She returned to campus after working at Eaton manufacturing because of the makerspace vision and is thrilled to be an integral part of it.

“Our current engineering studio is 1,600 square feet; the new space will be almost 12,000 square feet with a second story computer lab, and a self-contained design/prototyping facility,” said Sanders. “In addition to having our 3D printers there, we will have a CNC plasma cutter, table router, mill, lathe, laser cutter, water jet and engraver.” 

In the RAMP space, students will create designs using the new equipment. Assembly will occur in a specialized area that includes work benches on wheels, giving students the ability to configure the benches the way they need them.

“Our capacity will increase exponentially due to the equipment quantity and quality and amount of space. And the payoff will be higher, with better student outcomes and experiences, and higher-caliber projects,” said Sanders. “The end result is that all our students, regardless of their major, will be even more qualified for good-paying jobs.”

UNC Asheville faculty and staff look over plans at RAMP. From left to right: Susan Reiser (new media); Rebecca Bruce (engineering), Matt West (art), Sara Sanders (engineering), Jackson Martin (art), Brent Skidmore (art), Scott Walker (campus operations).

A City Center for Creative Entrepreneurship

The Center for Creative Entrepreneurship (CCE), a new collaboration between UNC Asheville and The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design (CCCD), brings students one step closer to those jobs. When CCE launches, it will be the Asheville area’s hub for product incubation, design thinking and creative sector entrepreneurship.

CCCD was formerly a part of the UNC system, and its main focus is to advance the understanding of craft within higher education. Housed in the former Lark Books facility in downtown Asheville, the beautiful, eclectic building includes galleries, event/conference space, small offices and co-working spaces. The vision for the CCCD-owned facility is to serve as a shared regional hub for academic institutions, creative organizations, makers and entrepreneurs. Programs for the CCE will be supported by the additional project partner Mountain BizWorks.  

UNC Asheville also received an initial grant of $716,500 from the Windgate Charitable Foundation. The three-year investment includes funding for pilot programming, operational support, and facility improvements.

Alumni are welcome in this space; it may help ease the transition for graduating seniors. For others, the CCE can be a place to refresh skills and learn new technologies. It will also offer connections to accountants, lawyers, financial lenders and marketers and other professionals who support makers. 

Fully realized, it will build upon CCCD’s national name and success among the craft community and add another level to UNC Asheville’s leadership in the area’s innovation economy and undergraduate research. 

“We needed a programmatic element, a hub for the creative community, and our partnership with UNC Asheville is a perfect fit,” said Stephanie Moore, executive director of CCCD. “Our programming will meet the entrepreneurial needs of the maker community, including studio and production makers from pre-professional to professional. The programming will be offered at reasonable costs to the arts community, and students will attend for free, rubbing elbows with their future selves.”