Engaged Practice

CIA Takes Art into the Real World

“If art is made in the studio and it never leaves that life, it never circulates. If it does not circulate, art is not professional but can only ever be a hobby—living half its life.... It needs to be shared." That's how the Cleveland Institute of Art's senior vice president of faculty affairs and chief academic officer defines the need for the school's Engaged Practice (EP) program, including its application to the industrial design program.

Chris Whittey tells Fresh Water Cleveland' that EP is just one part of CIA's Cores and Connections philosophy of pairing students with more than 200 outside partnerships for experiential programs and projects around Northeast Ohio.  

For example, a course taught by biomimicry Professor Douglas Paige pairs CIA ID students with natural resources experts at Cleveland Metroparks to expand the students’ studios to the outdoors, while developing products to benefit ecological issues. The students' designed a buoy system for the reclaimed Scranton Flats area that protect the wetlands along the Cuyahoga River from large freighters traveling through the shipping channel. “The buoys stand up to the ships’ bow thrusters and other debris,” explains Whittey.

Paige tells IDSA the project has moved into a prototyping phase with local manufacturers to test the concept on the river.

Daniel Cuffaro, chair of the Industrial Design Program, says CIA has embraced the EP concept for about 30 years, and project sponsorship has been common in the field for a long time. About 10 years ago, CIA created the Design Center course, which is focused solely on client-based projects. "This allows us to balance ideal process on projects in our core curriculum against the messy business of client work. Also, this course allows us to shift our focus to educating clients on the value of design. We don't like to compete with local design firms, but we do like to introduce new companies/organizations to design," Cuffaro tells IDSA.
 
He credits Paige with having a wealth of experience and knowledge in sustainable issues and biomimicy, so the river project made for a perfect fit. "We have gone through multiple rounds starting with a focus on rethinking river bulkheads, which enable industry, but disrupt the ecology of the critical riparian zone. The project progressed into the barriers of the current project that diffuse bow thrusters and protect habitat."
 
The current phase of the project involves moving the original ideas to production solutions. The CIA team has been prototyping, deploying and testing, with an eye on production. They also are working with local manufacturers to optimize the designs while identifying funding sources for a system that works for the Cuyahoga River and could be deployed elsewhere. "We are literally in the phase of optimization and funding now, and we can currently say there is a high level of interest and motivation to create this system and make it available to others," explains Cuffaro.
 
Whitley says CIA is considering implementing an “emotional intelligence” component to its curriculum in the future. “The next logical step is about non-art, non-design attributes or soft skills"—coursework that teaches resilience, perseverance and empathy.

CIA has an IDSA Student Chapter. Carla Blackman, IDSA, is the faculty advisor.