UNC Asheville Announces New Space for Designers, Innovators and Makers at River Arts Makers Place

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UNC Asheville faculty and staff stand in the new space at RAMP, which will open in fall 2016. From left to right: Matt West, Rebecca Bruce, Sara Sanders, Susan Reiser; back row: Jackson Martin, Brent Skidmore, Scott Walker

UNC Asheville students will have a new space to create their work in fall 2016, with the opening of an innovative space at the River Arts Makers Place (RAMP). The ability to move into and equip the new facility is being 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.

“This lab for innovation and collaboration will be a place for students in our Art, Computer Science, New Media and Engineering, and many other majors to develop their talent and to discover what is possible,” said UNC Asheville Chancellor Mary K. Grant. “These makers and entrepreneurs need the space and excellent equipment to do their best work, and in creating this lab with the support of the Windgate Charitable Foundation and Duke Energy Foundation, we are providing the tools to hone their craft, to think critically and creatively and to find solutions for the future. It’s an investment in innovation.”

RAMP is located on Riverside Drive, adjacent to UNC Asheville’s campus. The UNC Asheville Foundation will have a 10-year lease for 11,575 square feet in the facility, customizing the space to meet the needs of students. The Duke Energy Foundation grant, announced in fall 2015, will fund new equipment for UNC Asheville’s engineering program, offered jointly with NC State, which has contributed $100,000 to the lab through the NC State Office of the Provost, Warwick Arden.

“We recognize and underscore the importance of partnerships, establishing our engineering program in the 21st century, with students learning across a range of disciplines to appreciate and excel at problem solving. Our graduates understand the process from inception of an idea to communicating with a client and ultimately delivering results,” said UNC Asheville Provost Joseph Urgo.

“Good design is about working across science, technology, engineering and art. This space will provide students a hands-on opportunity to blend those elements in an inspirational area unique to Asheville. It’s exciting,” said Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kit Cramer.

The facility is envisioned with innovation, design and fabrication in mind and will be outfitted with new equipment for 3D modeling and printing, as well as water jet, laser and plasma cutters. It will feature multiple forms of metal fabrication equipment alongside a state-of-the-art woodworking facility and spaces designed specifically to support cross-disciplinary learning through collaborations.

“After meeting with Chancellor Grant and her team, it’s remarkable to see Duke Energy’s investment turn into a space where students can innovate, design and fabricate,” said David Fountain, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president. “I applaud UNC Asheville’s leadership for making this vision become a reality.”

UNC Asheville will share the 100,000 square-foot-facility with creative neighbors, including Cheap Joe’s Art Supply and Astral Designs as well as multiple working artist and design studios, and a proposed glass-blowing space, offering extended synergy and professional connections and collaborations.

“The hands-on learning that will be made possible in this space is unparalleled in undergraduate education and a perfect fit for Asheville,” said UNC Asheville Foundation Board Chair Himanshu Karvir. “UNC Asheville faculty and staff have worked diligently to make this dream a reality, to bring this innovation into our community and to build up the capacity of campus. We truly appreciate the support of the foundations helping us to outfit the space with cutting-edge technology and the generous partnership of RAMP owners, Eddie Dewey, Rick Eckerd, Tom Oreck, and Brent Starck."

The building owners contributed over $57,000 in upgrades to the space and have worked with architect Brent Campbell. UNC Asheville has contracted with Form & Function Architecture for the design.

“We’ll have a campus where creative people and processes can mingle and cross pollinate,” said Starck. “It’s important to us that the buildings have an element of what’s becoming commonly known as a ‘makerspace' in them, and that’s one of the things UNC Asheville is bringing to the table. We’ll be able to see what happens when you combine the creative brain of an artist with the craftsperson, mixed with work in mechatronics engineering. That’s the exciting aspect of this project and partnership.”   

This is the second grant from the Windgate Charitable Foundation to UNC Asheville in 2016 and complements a $716,500 grant to launch the Center for Creative Entrepreneurship in partnership with The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design in downtown Asheville. Together, these new initiatives offer students a pathway of experience, from the space and tools to develop their expertise, and access to the collaborators, community networks and entrepreneurial resources that will take their work to the next level.

“This facility and equipment will provide a start-up environment where students in Art, Computer Science, New Media and Engineering can develop prototype viable products, continue creative exploration of undergraduate research and develop portfolios to present when seeking employment. In this space, we envision a continuum of visiting makers and scholars working alongside students, allowing them access to individuals with professional and practical knowledge in the arts and sciences, creating possibilities for dynamic learning, internships and career opportunities for the next generation of makers,” said Brent Skidmore, assistant professor of art and art history.

Several faculty members will collaborate to launch the space, including professors Rebecca Bruce, Jackson Martin, Susan Reiser, Leisa Rundquist, and Brent Skidmore alongside technicians and UNC Asheville alumni Sara Sanders and Matt West, and with the support of Dean of Natural Sciences Keith Krumpe. For an example of the type of class and work that will be made possible, visit https://www.unca.edu/movers-and-makers.