View from the Bridge: Saluting graduating students and Art Center’s social impact on healthy drinking water and food

by December 16th, 2013

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A Balde Movil prototype is put to the test in Altos del Pino, Bogota, Colombia.

The Fall 2013 term culminated last weekend with our Grad Show—an unqualified success attracting hundreds of industry representatives—and the arrival of our students’ families on campus for graduation. It was my great pleasure to meet many of them and share in their excitement and pride.

I began this weekend’s ceremonies by reading Everything is Waiting for You by David Whyte. An ode to the creative power of community, this poem was born surprisingly out of a moment of deep grief for the author, which makes its vibrant call to action all the more remarkable. The work begins with a warning of isolation—“Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone”—moves to an acknowledged tension of individual identity in the crowd—“Surely, even you, at times, have felt … the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice”—and concludes with an exultant celebration of discovery and the power of entering the “conversation”—“The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink” and, ultimately, “Everything is waiting for you.”

I shared this poem because I want our graduating students to find the strength to face what is calling them and recognize that they are surrounded by an astonishing depth and plethora of life. I want them to celebrate where the new edges meet and, as the poem suggests, believe they can change the world by their attentive presence.

Our students’ work offers ample evidence that this is all very much underway.

An Altos del Pino resident shows students her arduous process for saving and storing water.

Last week I attended the final presentation for Designmatters’ Safe Agua Colombia. This class is the department’s latest Safe Agua collaboration with non-governmental organization TECHO and other partners, three projects that tackle head-on the lack of access to safe, clean drinking water for impoverished communities in South America.

This fall, 12 students spent two weeks with 10 families from Altos del Pino, Bogota, Colombia with the goal of co-creating, in collaboration with the families, affordable, innovative solutions to help meet their water needs and aspirations. These students—a truly transdisciplinary team consisting of majors in Film, Environmental Design, Illustration and Product Design—were led by instructors Daniel Gottlieb, Penny Herscovitch and Javier Palomares.

The outcomes of their work are inspiring. The new projects include Kristina Jesena’s and Shingo Mamiya’s WaterWays: Balde Movil—a sturdy dolly designed to enable an individual to transport two five-gallon containers full of water over rocky, hilly terrain without spilling—and CalienteAmigo, a suite of three affordable devices designed by Tianyi Sun, Della Tosin and Kevin Chang to reduce the hours spent heating water, while also providing a portable showerhead for bathing and a means of delivering pressurized, foot-powered water for washing dishes.

All of the students’ projects, as well as the work produced by the team’s embedded documentarians, were created with diligent ethnographic research and a remarkable empathy for their end users. My hat goes off to these students and to the remarkable strides they made since I checked in with them at their midterm critique. Keep an eye out for their projects, as I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about them in the months and years ahead.

A still from Myspace's profile of recent alumnus Terry Carr.

A still from Myspace’s video profile of recent alumnus Terry Carr.

On another note, I highly recommend you visit Art Center’s presence on the newly revamped Myspace. During the past term, a group of our students took over the social network’s homepage for a week and shared their creative processes with the site’s massive user base of 35 million, which Myspace describes as “an infinitely expanding creative community” that desires to “connect, make, discover, collaborate, promote and expand.”

I am particularly struck by a video shot and edited by Graduate Film student Tatyana Kim that highlights a project by Terry Carr, who graduated this past weekend with a B.S. in Product Design. Carr’s project The Bridge proposes an ambitious system for taking fresh produce from grocery stores and farms, much of which is discarded for purely cosmetic reasons, and delivering it to low-income neighborhoods in South Los Angeles where a scarcity of healthy foods contributes to chronic diseases.

As Carr comments in the video, “There are solutions all around us if we would take the time to just observe and discover them.”

From Colombia to Los Angeles to ever-expanding online social networks, our students’ work is leaving an indelible mark on all who encounter it. And that’s something we can all be proud of. The kettle is singing indeed.

With best wishes for a warm holiday season and a happy new year, I invite you to enjoy another Tatyana Kim creation, the video In One Word.

Lorne M. Buchman, Ph.D., is President and CEO of Art Center College of Design. 

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