Not only does Carol Townsend, associate professor of art and design, understand the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration, she embraces it whenever possible.
For instance, in 2017, when Jim Battaglia, visiting research associate of biology, sought new partners for the campus’s Eckert Herbarium—a collection of more than 16,000 preserved plant and flora specimens—Townsend jumped on it as a project for her Design 101 and 103 students. By last spring, her students were using the specimens as subjects for drawings, which then became distinctive design motifs.
“Each student created a portfolio of symmetrical and asymmetrical patterns from them,” Townsend said. “I think it opened their eyes that inspiration is all around us if we only look.”
The collaboration resulted in “Designs From Nature: Observation Becomes Observation” poster that Townsend and Battaglia presented at the fall 2017 Faculty and Staff Research and Creativity Forum.
Townsend, who grew up on dairy farm at the foothills of the Catskills Mountains, innately sees the connection between nature and art and also among disciplines. Since joining Buffalo State in 1995, she has orchestrated numerous projects that bring seemingly disparate disciplines together.
Her first was in 2000, when she worked with Jill Singer, professor of earth sciences and earth science education. Townsend’s ceramics students, using deep-water fish as inspiration, created the installation “Deep Blue Sea” that went up in the Campbell Student Union. It inspired the poster presentation, “There’s Something Fishy Here: Oceanography Inspires Design,” that Singer presented at a meeting of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers in Reno, Nevada, in November 2000.
Townsend’s current collaboration is with Lynn Boorady, professor and chair of fashion and textile technology (FTT). Sponsored by a FSA Founder’s Fund grant, “Nature Inspired Design: A Collaboration,” combines the creative work of design and FTT majors.
A team of art and design faculty recently recommended the strongest of almost 60 student fabric designs, and Boorady and Brianna Plummer, assistant professor of FTT, selected the final 13. Students in Plummer’s Fashion Technology course will transfer those designs onto fabric. Once printed, 13 fashion design student will each create a dress to be modeled in this spring’s Runway fashion show.
“We feel that this double collaboration is unique and extremely valuable to student learning,” Townsend said. “The students will experience new avenues of inspiration, develop collaborative relationships with students in different fields of study, and visualize their designs in new and exciting ways.”
Townsend also likes to share the visual arts with other campus constituents. For instance, eight years ago, she became the visual arts coordinator for the Anne Frank Project, the annual social justice festival that Drew Kahn, AFP director and professor of theater, founded in 2008. Every year, Townsend ensures the campus has two art exhibits that reflect the theme of the campuswide festival and plans talks and receptions with the artists.
In 2013, she founded the “Artists on the Road: Travel as Inspiration” series, a lunchtime forum for faculty and students to talk about how travel has informed their art. While the majority of the speakers represent the Art and Design Department, the series has included faculty from hospitality and tourism and art conservation. To Townsend, it’s important to offer artistic opportunities to multiple individuals and to encourage all academic disciplines to learn from one another.
“I think a lot of places are looking at collaboration and a college such as Buffalo State offers great opportunities to do them,” she said. “There is such a broad variety of resource available here in terms of faculty and facilities.”
However, as strongly as she believes in the power of cross-disciplinary collaboration, Townsend said it is difficult to mandate.
“It must happen organically in order to be successful.”
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