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5 Years of RISCA’s Design Innovation Grant


“Providing opportunities like the DIG grant, which supports and creates new investment opportunities for local design businesses, is huge. The more opportunities that are available, the more likely we are to build a stronger, more viable and sustainable design community.� —Ben Blanc 2012 DIG Recipient Front & back cover: Concept sketches by Ben Blanc This page: Heirloom Seed Kit by Sarah Rainwater


Celebrating 5 Years of RISCA’s Design Innovation Grant This catalogue is a celebration of the accomplishments of six Rhode Island design professionals. Each received a Design

Innovation Grant (DIG) from the Rhode Island State Council on

the Arts (RISCA) to launch a business or product line, to further technology and innovation, or to build tools and resources.

Rhode Island is home to a wealth of talented design professionals and entrepreneurs. The nature of the industry requires that

these designers spend most of their time responding to client needs and specifications. RISCA created the DIG program to

encourage Rhode Island designers – who are some of our most creative innovators and problem solvers – to further their own

design projects. Each year, RISCA awards one $6000 grant to a

designer who is producing exemplary work and has a compelling design proposal with clear public benefit and real potential for implementation. 2014 is the fifth anniversary of RISCA’s DIG

program, and each of the five designers who have received a

Design Innovation Grant have used the funds in exactly the way

they were intended to be used: to realize personal creative projects that benefit Rhode Island. Projects funded by DIG can be found in commercial storefronts and nonprofit offices, written up in

local and national media, and in working partnerships between designers and local fabricators. DIG artists prove that smart

investment in creative workers brings not just financial return,

but broad recognition that Rhode Island is a hub of innovation, production, and style. Stay tuned to find out what the next five 2010 Shawn Wallace

years of DIG funding will help to accomplish.

2011 Stephanie Retz + Will Wells

2012 Ben Blanc 2013 Sarah Rainwater 2014 John Caserta

The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts is a state agency, supported by appropriations from the Rhode Island General

Assembly and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. RISCA provides grants, technical assistance and

staff support to arts organizations and artists, schools, community centers, social service organizations and local governments to

bring the arts into the lives of Rhode Islanders. www.arts.ri.gov


“The whole open source sharing and documenting of designs and schematics was a new way of doing business. So instead of protecting your intellectual property, you give it away, and then reap the benefits from the community. We end up being collaborators.�


Shawn Wallace DIG Project: To create access to personal computer-controlled fabrication by designing an open, easy-to-acquire platform of tools. 100 Garages will build on, contribute to, and help integrate existing open tool platforms and kits.

A champion of democratic access to electronics and digital

fabrication technology, Shawn Wallace served as Managing

Director at AS220 from 1994-2009 and was the inaugural recipient of RISCA’s Design Innovation Grant in 2010. The award enabled

him to transition from his position at the community arts non-profit into spearheading a business in digital fabrication and electronics. In 2010 Shawn partnered with Paul Badger, who teaches at the

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), in the electronics startup Modern Device, currently based in Pawtucket.

In 2008, Shawn helped to bring the Providence Fab Lab to

AS220, playing a critical role in catalyzing the growing maker and

hackerspace community in Rhode Island. The Lab is a community fabrication and engineering studio dedicated to providing

education and access to open source hardware and software

technology. It was there, in 2009, that Shawn met Paul Badger,

who was using the Fab Lab’s laser cutter to produce PCB stencils for Modern Device. Soon Shawn jumped on board with the open hardware company.

The original goal of 100 Garages was to build on the open source software and hardware of the Fab Lab and allow people to bring their work home with the use of simple DIY machines and tools. The mission of Modern Device is directly related to the goals

of Wallace’s DIG proposal; selling electronic hardware kits and

serving the maker community with building tutorials and shareable schematics online.

In 2012 Shawn returned to AS220 to serve as an instructor at

the Providence Fab Academy and in 2014 he became AS220’s Industries Director on a full-time basis, managing programs he

spearheaded at the organization years ago. He is bringing some of the entrepreneurial design skills learned at Modern Device to the

Fab Lab’s Kitshop, another way of engaging both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors in order to continue helping people to make for themselves. www.fluxly.com


Stephanie Retz + Will Wells DIG Project: To design a system that uses waste plastic bags as a raw material to create stimulating new products that are designed specifically to be produced by local artisans and human hands.

Stephanie Retz came to Rhode Island in 2006 to pursue a BFA in Industrial Design (ID) at RISD. Here she met Will Wells, a fellow

RISD ID student, and the two paired up to launch what has now

become the Providence Plastic Project (PPP). The company is the offshoot of work the two began as students. Stephanie and Will

took a course that was taught in partnership with Waste For Life, a non-profit network of scientists, engineers, educators, architects,

artists, designers, and cooperatives that develop poverty-reducing solutions to specific environmental problems. Their class project was to design a system that used waste plastics in the creation

of new products that could easily be fabricated by anyone, as a

means for generating income through microbusiness models. After graduation, inspired by the techniques they had acquired in the

course, Retz applied for and won RISCA’s 2011 Design Innovation Grant to continue the upcycling project. In that critical transition period between school and career, Stephanie and Will poured

their time into the Plastic Project, perfecting the fabrication and

design process for a durable, flexible, bi-fold wallet made of locally sourced plastic and textile waste.

Stephanie has since moved to Southern Massachusetts to pursue a successful career in handbag design, but the Plastic Project

continues to flourish under Will’s guidance. He has partnered with Ryan Venghaus and Steve Greco, both Rhode Island designers, to continue developing new products at PPP. They’ve teamed

up with Courtesy Cleaners, Rhode Island’s largest dry cleaning

company, to collect and recycle their used dry cleaning bags, and Project Repat, a recycling company with facilities in Fall River,

Massachusetts, that turns old t-shirts into innovative products. PPP aims to showcase its products in order to inspire fellow

designers and entrepreneurs to take advantage of these abundant waste streams for sustainable product design. The Providence

Plastic Project is ready to scale up and increase its output. With a recent move to the Nicholson File industrial space in Providence, the business is poised to hire more employees and increase production. www.providenceplastic.com


“The Providence Plastic Project couldn’t have been possible without the RISCA grant. Money came at a time when we could have just as easily decided not to continue. The grant really helped us explore... we could just be in the studio all the time.”


“Rhode Island is certainly capable of becoming a center for design innovation, but continued support is crucial for its success. And a supportive design friendly environment can go a long way to retain these highly skilled designers and makers.�


Ben Blanc DIG Project: To uncover both traditional and emerging technologies in the Rhode Island area and make use of these valuable resources in order to produce and release a bi-yearly limited edition set of artisan children’s toys.

Ben Blanc is a furniture and decorative object designer, and part-

time faculty in the RISD Furniture Design Department. The goal of Ben’s 2012 DIG proposal was originally to create a line of hand-

crafted, locally-sourced wooden children’s toys. As he sought local fabricators to make his toy line a reality, he realized that there was

no easy way to find and connect with local businesses that had the fabrication capacities he needed. He used his DIG grant to take time off from commissions and teaching and devote himself to

research and networking: seeking out local manufacturers, bringing them test projects, and experimenting with their capabilities.

Through his research, Ben came to realize that Rhode Island’s

manufacturing sector could be strengthened by building direct

relationships between Rhode Island’s design community and its

highly specialized fabrication businesses, which he describes as comprising “one of the most diverse manufacturing hubs in the US.” Within six months of receiving his award, Ben had made

new connections with companies doing lost-wax casting, metal

spinning, lathe turning – all in need of new design initiatives and new investment in order to remain profitable.

Ben now serves as a brain trust for his students and for local artists and designers who seek his deep knowledge of local

fabricators and manufacturers. He has created a database of

local manufacturers and fabricators willing and able to work with artists and designers, and the networks he has established have

allowed him to transition much of his own design work, including commission-based projects, to truly local fabrication. Ben hopes to inspire other designers to manufacture locally, serving as a

resource on the region’s production capabilities and as a point of

contact in establishing relationships between local designers and manufacturers. www.benblanc.com


“I had conceptualized this product and built some samples, but the DIG grant allowed me to put it into production, promote it, and make it happen.�


Sarah Rainwater DIG Project: To create Edible Flower Seed Kits and Herb Seed Kits that adhere to the design philosophy of taking simple ideas and producing smart, fun, interactive products that are sustainable and locally fabricated as much as is possible. The new products will include custom-designed laser-etched wooden blocks that hold the seeds in vials and can be re-used as bud vases or dried herb storage.

Sarah Rainwater is a print and interactive product designer who

has run her company, Sarah Rainwater Design, out of the Design Office on Westminster Street in Providence since 2007. Her love

of simple, beautiful products is reflected in her Heirloom Seed Kit - a beautiful compact box, manufactured by hand from locally-

sourced materials, that comes with all the necessary ingredients to assemble your own window garden. Originally, Rainwater enlisted the help of fellow designers at the Design Office in

assembling the kits and even collaborated with 2012 DIG Grantee Ben Blanc to figure out how to source her materials locally and fabricate the boxes in the most cost-effective way. What was

originally designed as a promotional piece for her business grew into something much bigger than Sarah had ever imagined. As

the popularity of the seed kits took off, demand began to exceed her small company’s financial and manufacturing capabilities. A

2013 DIG award served as the critical seed funds that propelled

the Heirloom Seed Kit forward and helped Rainwater to launch a

second product, the Edible Flower Seed Kit. Since then Sarah has been able to hire assistants to assemble and ship the kits, which have been sold at Anthropologie, Williams Sonoma, West Elm,

and at small boutiques throughout the country. They have also

been featured on RealSimple.com, Design*Sponge, The Dieline, Anthology Magazine, and Rhode Island Monthly. www.srainwater.com


John Caserta DIG Project: To develop a web-based video player for longform content-rich videos: interviews, symposia, lectures, documentaries and how-to videos. Currently, most video online is viewed through YouTube and Vimeo, surrounded by advertisements and metadata that do content a disservice. The innovative video player I am developing in collaboration with a Brown Computer Science concentrator is ideal for educators, artists, academics and government institutions.

John Caserta is an information designer, an educator and, most

ART + TECHNOLOGY

recently, Head of the Graphic Design Department at RISD. John graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism

and went on to produce information graphics in the web media

departments of major newspapers including the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times. For the past seven years he has been dedicated not only to his own creative work, but also to the

broader creative community of Rhode Island. In 2007 he founded the Design Office at 204 Westminster Street, a space that has

29 cities, 1 conversation

housed over thirty independent Rhode Island designers, including 2013 DIG recipient Sarah Rainwater. This communal office space not only offers entrepreneurial designers affordable downtown office space, but also a community to support each other’s professional and creative projects.

RISCA’s most recent DIG recipient, John is still in the early phase of his proposed project – an online, long-form video player for

content-rich video and audio. Content will be search-indexable, meaning that with one quick Google search of a transcribed

video, viewers will be able to pull up an exact moment of footage. John’s first test interview on the player, created for Brown

University’s Watson Institute, was with Frederic Grare of the

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The video player allows viewers to scroll through the interview to select specific

chapters, rather than having to scan through the entire 31 minutes of video to find the content they are looking for. The need for the

video player came to John organically, as someone who has long

been interested in designing media systems that present complex

video player will be one more tool among the many unique and innovative information systems that John continues to design. www.johncaserta.com

by John Caserta

experience video can and should be changed. The long-form

Printing by Jesen Tanadi

information in a coherent manner. He believes that the way we


“My work supports other like-minded people who are looking to be a little bit entrepreneurial, a little bit fine arts – perhaps to get away from the reactionary, service-oriented, traditional framework of graphic design. Many of us are graphic designers, but there’s so much more you can do when you consider yourself to be a designer more generally.”


Catalogue Credits Design Jason Tranchida / LLAMAproduct Interviews & Text Cristina DiChiera & Anny Li Photography Scott Lapham & AS220 Photo Mem Photo of John Caserta by Micah Barrett This page: Wallets from the Providence Plastic Project


The Design Innovation Grant [DIG] seeks to encourage Rhode Island design professionals to develop plans and concepts that

represent a high level of creative problem solving and innovation in a design field. The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts

(RISCA) offers one competitive $6000 grant annually to Rhode

Island designers for design ideas that are highly creative and show potential for innovation and/or implementation. Grant proposals

are strengthened if they address one or both of the following goals:

Innovation of a specific kind of design, process

Creation of a product or service that has a potential

or application public benefit

Awards are based upon samples of past work and proposals for future work.

Grant Amounts: One grant of $6000 will be awarded each year. Deadline: October 1 of each year Eligibility: Applicants must be at least eighteen years of age.

Students pursuing graduate or undergraduate degrees in an arts

discipline or an arts-related subject area at the time of application may not apply. Applicants must be residents of the State of

Rhode Island for at least twelve consecutive months prior to the date of application.

How to Apply: Apply through RISCA’s online grant application

system. To register and apply, visit www.arts.ri.gov/ind-apply

For more information contact: Cristina DiChiera, Director of Artist Programs 401.222.3881

cristina.dichiera@arts.ri.gov



Five Years of RISCA's Design Innovation Grant