Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) announced that two generous donors will support new endeavors to advance its recently inaugurated Movement Lab, a cross-disciplinary center for the creative study of movement. The Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation will fund two fellows in the lab, and RISD parent Cheryl Henson (P. ’24), President of the Jim Henson Foundation and daughter of the internationally celebrated puppeteer (1936-90), will provide support for a visiting puppeteer to teach at RISD.
The Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation, cofounded by RISD alum Delle Maxwell (’74, Textile Design) and Pat Hanrahan, supports individual scientists, teachers, conservationists and creators “whose diverse perspectives enable us to discover new things about ourselves and our world.”
The foundation’s gift, in combination with funds from Hanrahan’s Turing Award winnings, will support two annual teaching fellowships in the Movement Lab for post-graduate artists and scholars. Collectively, these funds will prioritize diversifying the next generation of artists and designers and help to increase equitable curricula at the school.
Speaking about bringing puppetry to the Movement Lab, dedicated advocate of the art form Cheryl Henson says, “Movement and gesture are integral to puppetry. Bringing an inanimate object to life is achieved by imitating the subtle movements that we recognize as those of a living being. The effects of breath and gravity on a body, enhanced by the myriad emotions conveyed through gesture, tell us who a character is and why we should care. It is exciting to think about what RISD students might create in this playful art form during Wintersession courses led by a professional puppeteer.”
The Jim Henson Foundation supports innovative contemporary puppet theater. Cheryl’s father Jim Henson received an Athena Award from RISD in 1982 for his creation of The Muppets and was awarded a posthumous honorary doctor of fine arts in 1991; his daughter Heather Henson earned a BFA from RISD in 1995.
The Movement Lab arose from RISD’s unique approach to animation education. Based in the Film/Animation/Video (FAV) department, it is a multidisciplinary research space for students, faculty and visiting artists. Three new Wintersession courses, developed by the Movement Lab fellows and the visiting puppeteer, will be open to students in all disciplines beginning in January 2024.
“Movement crosses every boundary and provides unique insights across cultures, races, ethnicities, species, continents, landforms and even simply between two people trying to understand each other,” says FAV Department Head Amy Kravitz.
Fellows will focus on their independent creative research projects, which may include animation, filmmaking, immersive arts, performance, game arts, dance, puppetry, robotics or kinetic sculpture, among other things. Kravitz says she hopes the fellows will invent previously unimagined fields of movement study.
The five-year rotating visiting puppeteer will help students develop a foundational understanding of puppetry, a multicultural art form with roots in Asia, Europe and Africa that engages a range of disciplines, including performance, sculpture, textiles and illustration.
“Movement is a language that connects everything and everyone in conscious and unconscious ways,” says Associate Professor Max Porter (’03, FAV). “The fact that we move is universal. However, how and why we move is specific to each individual.”
Future research might explore such questions as: How are gestures incorporated, even unconsciously, by social groups? Do people adapt the rhythms of breathing when they are together, or mimic each other’s gestures? How does visualized movement affect the bodies of people who are unable to move?
In addition to undergraduate courses, Movement Lab programming will support postgraduate work that explores movement at the intersection of language, identity, cultures, ecosystems and/or peoples. The new programming will address FAV’s ongoing efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in art, design and computing, on campus and beyond.
For more information, visit risd.edu/movementlab.
RISD (pronounced “RIZ-dee”) is a creative community founded in 1877 in Providence, Rhode Island. Today, the school enrolls 2,620 students from 59 countries, engaged in 44 full-time bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and supported by a worldwide network of over 31,000 alumni.