Creativity and Innovation District

The "Theatre 101" building stands tall on College Avenue in the afternoon light, with its glass exterior reflecting the lamplight as it shines, Oct. 2, 2016.

If you’ve ever walked just past Virginia Tech’s University Bookstore or Hokie Grill, you might have come across a humongous building that looks like it is from a grand city. This brand new building is the Creativity and Innovation District (CID) Living-Learning Program Residence Hall. This residence hall’s purpose is to cultivate a community of creation and innovation within the Virginia Tech community. The CID houses three Living-Learning Communities (LLCs) that are focused on cultivating the arts and entrepreneurship: Studio 72, Innovate and Rhizome

Matt Ebert, program director of Studio 72, gave insight into his background, Studio 72 itself and the first several months of the LLC being a part of the CID.

Ebert’s history with the arts and creativity started in early high school with artistic and imaginative elective classes such as improv, theatre and woodshop. 

“I actually did a set-building class and that's where I learned how to use power tools and paint and think about building things on a large scale,” Ebert said. 

The art program that Ebert majored in was interdisciplinary, which touched on various forms of art such as photography, graphic design, paper-making, painting and more. Outside of his classes, he continued to cultivate his creative skills by building and making things such as furniture. 

“I’ve just always been interested in making things,” Ebert said, “So when I changed my major, that was a really good decision, because it was like four years of exploring and learning new things, which is what I love.” 

Ebert then came to Virginia Tech for graduate school in 2013 and received a master’s in higher education and student affairs.

“Studio 72 is the perfect combination for my background in the arts and my master’s in higher education and working with college students,” Ebert said.

Ebert is an experiential and tactile learner whose creativity is connected to his mental health as well as his own learning, growth and development. One of the ways that Ebert recharges after work and during stressful times includes working on his own creative projects. 

“I think I am motivated more by kind of my own creative process and understanding how and why I make things, less so about showing it and sharing it with other people,” Ebert said. 

However, he does encourage the showing and sharing of artwork with other people to better their own art and creative processes. Ebert views art as more of a collective term rather than an individual one.

“Here at Virginia Tech, we need to talk about the arts, not just art as in a singular,” Ebert said. 

Ebert sees art as more of an umbrella term rather than separate pieces with all kinds of activities containing some form of creativity or art within them.

“I think we are at a place where we are starting to see some of these disciplines overlap,” Ebert said. “They’re not in their own lanes”

Ebert says that the arts play a role in many aspects of society today, ranging from how architects design buildings to how politicians draft language and policy.

“I think higher education has a major role to play in considering the role of the arts in a lot of those different disciplines — not necessarily in blending or diluting those disciplines — but in complementing those disciplines,” Ebert said. 

When Ebert talks about the arts within the Virginia Tech campus, he noted that pockets of artistic activity happen at Virginia Tech, giving Studio 72, the Moss Arts Center and the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology as examples on campus, but all of them exist in isolation in relation to the rest of campus.

“It’s not unlikely that a student here at Virginia Tech can go four years without stepping into the Moss Arts Center, or go four years without seeing a piece of art or experiencing a performance that moves them,” Ebert said. “If the arts, even just concepts in the arts, thinking about composition, or thinking about reading visual images, if some of that is introduced into disciplines whether through coursework or experiential learnings or internships, where students get exposed to thinking creatively in their own discipline, I don’t think that is a bad thing.”

Ebert interned at the Moss Arts Center when they were benchmarking the exhibition programs at peer institutions with similar sizes, such as Penn State and Stanford. It was there that he noticed how these schools had art learning communities that worked closely with their performing arts center, but Virginia Tech didn’t have one. Ebert wrote a proposal for it and was a part of the group that planned the LLC for two years. 

He then applied for the position of program director and has been in this position for five years. 

“I think part of what I’m motivated by is when I was in college, I went almost the whole time in college without really getting to know anyone in my major, and it was a really small arts program,” Ebert said, “I went almost four years without getting to know people that I was having class with or without really stepping outside of class to talk to people about how I can develop my work even more.”

Ebert wants to give students living in Studio 72 the opportunities to connect with each other, more so than his experience in college.

“Let’s create a space here at Virginia Tech for people who are creative and who are artists and makers to live around each other, to work around each other and to give each other feedback for how they can improve their work, more so than that might happen in isolation,” Ebert said. “Let’s do that as a group; let’s help each other be better.” 

Formerly housed in Pritchard Hall, Studio 72 is an interdisciplinary arts and creativity LLC open to any student from any major or year.

“What we do is really think deeply about how to uncover different parts of our own artistic and creative process,” Ebert said. “What we try and spend a lot of time thinking about is ‘How tuned into your own creative process are you when you are making something?’ and ‘How can you improve that little by little?’”

Studio 72 promotes creative processes in students by utilizing weekly meetings where they analyze and understand the creative decisions artists make in their artwork as well as hosting critique nights for students to get feedback on their work. The LLC also has workshops with visiting artists, faculty and staff, local artists, and even with students where they teach a skill or a way of thinking in their own personal way of artmaking to other people. Between these two activities and events, students who participate in this community see their art change and evolve over time by getting exposed to new ideas, trying new things and practicing something they know well.

One of the challenges that Studio 72 now faces is finding ways to integrate it with the other two LLCs in the CID.

“What is the role inside this building that Studio 72 plays as the arts and creativity incubator hub?” Ebert said. “How do we start to touch on some of those other communities on how to be artistic and creative?” 

Studio 72 will partner with LLCs for open mic and paint nights and develop other programs to participate in, such as an animation jam, where anyone in the building and on campus can learn how to animate.

When thinking about the future of Studio 72, Ebert wants Studio 72 to be the starting place for people to reach out and find all these different pockets of arts all around the university. He wants someone to come into Studio 72 and see, as a member, that there are multiple pathways for them to grow as a person throughout the university. 

“My greatest hope is that our community becomes the connective tissue of the arts at Virginia Tech,” Ebert said. “I hope in five years, what we’ve done in Studio 72 is made that pathway (in connecting with these other pockets) a little more clear.”

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