If repeat business is the surest sign of doing something right for clients, then a Ringling College of Art and Design department is about to get really busy.
That department is the Collaboratory.
A combination of collaboration and laboratory, the project is a partnership with The Patterson Foundation, a Sarasota-based organization that provided around $700,000 to fund the early stages. The Collaboratory, under the “monetize creativity” theme coined by circus pioneer and college founder John Ringling himself, is set up to provide a range of art and design services for businesses and organizations. In the process, Ringling students work on projects and get an experience that goes deeper than a coffee-fetching internship.
“These are real-world clients with real-world deadlines,” says Ringling College Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Collaborative Enterprises Cynthia Gravino. “These students become part of a company for the duration of a project. They feel like they are part of the team.”
Collaboratory clients, on the other side, are exposed to what some call a best-kept Sarasota secret: The talent and skill of the 1,250 students at Ringling College, from interior design to filmmaking. A common refrain from executives who have worked with the Collaboratory, say school officials, is “we had no idea” Ringling students can do all this is. Says Gravino: “The students opened their eyes to all the ways design can impact their business.”
Gravino says the Collaboratory is a clearinghouse for all that Ringling College, and its students, can do. It's open to Ringling students of any major, and will work with businesses and nonprofits of any size or any industry. Projects can be weekend design charrettes, 16-week engagements or endeavors that last a year or longer.
The Collaboratory, while the actual work only launched through a pilot project in the spring semester, dates back to a theory Ringling President Larry Thompson has held for at least a decade: to shatter the myth of the starving artist. That mission is a cornerstone of the Ringling College experience.
“(The Collaboratory) is a way to differentiate us from other colleges and a systematic approach to providing these opportunities for students,” says Thompson. “This is also an opportunity for businesses to learn how talented and amazing our students are.”
That's played out in the Collaboratory's first few projects. In one, students were assigned to work on a new website for the Sarasota Police Department. Students met with department officials at the station to understand how the organization works and what it wanted for the website. The department liked the students' work so much, centered around a Blue + You theme, officials have already assigned the Collaboratory more work.
Other entities that worked with the Collaboratory include Sarasota-based health care products firm Biolife and Sanctuary Holdings, a real estate development company. Ringling students wrote, directed and starred in a series of quirky YouTube videos for BioLife's WoundSeal, a powder that forms an instant seal around a wound. Students, in a weekend competition, also designed a brand and theme for a beach bar and restaurant in the Virgin Islands that Sanctuary Holdings is developing.
Ringling hired Gravino last year. Previously the director of career services at the Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio, Gravino's role is to both oversee the Collaboratory and guide it through its next big challenge: to become a self-sufficient, sustainable organization with its own revenue streams by 2016, when the Patterson Foundation funding ends. So Gravino will be the external face of the Collaboratory, pitching its services to the business and nonprofit community.
“We've laid all the groundwork,” says Gravino. “Next year this will really explode.”
Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon
AT A GLANCE
Ringling College of Art and Design
President: Larry Thompson
Year Founded: 1931, by John Ringling
Campus: More than 110 buildings on 48 acres north of downtown Sarasota.
Students: 1,253. Students are from 50 countries, 44 states in the U.S., plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and two military bases.
Majors: 14. Two most popular majors are illustration and computer animation/game art and design.
Annual operating budget: $61 million. Nearly 70% of the annual budget comes from tuition and fees.
Jobs: Ringling graduates have been hired at companies and organizations nationwide, including Hallmark, the CIA, DreamWorks and Electronic Arts.
Source: Ringling College of Art and Design