One student was so grateful for the new arts space on campus, they crocheted a tiny red hat – a thank you gift of sorts. The 3D printed dog, created to wear the hat, has become both decoration and guardian, watching over the space Emory students wanted for years and finally got.
When Rizky Etika (20C) was a student at Emory, she and other student artists wished for a dedicated visual arts space on campus. That dream became a reality when Emory’s ArtsLab opened its doors in the fall of 2021.
“I found that I had barriers to accessing the arts on campus,” Etika said. “I would have to take an Uber to an arts store and pay out of pocket for all the supplies, so a space like this would have been a dream for me.”
Nestled in the back corner of Cox Computing Lab, ArtsLab provides a physical space for students to access visual arts. Unlike the visual arts building, which is restricted to students in visual arts classes or those pursuing the Integrated Visual Arts Co-major (IVAC), ArtsLab is a dedicated space open to all students. Located across the hall from ArtsLab, Emory’s TechLab provided a model for distributing supplies such as 3D printing material, a laser cutter and soldering equipment that might not typically be accessible to college students. Like TechLab, ArtsLab has materials available for free and sold at a subsidized cost.
“I liked how they rented out certain tools and sold some things that cost so it was just really accessible for students financially and physically,” Etika said.
ArtsLab provides free resources for students like paint brushes, charcoal, gum erasers and textiles. It also sells materials like paint, vinyl and sticker paper at a reduced fee. Additionally, the center boasts a die-cutting service, sticker maker and tools for jewelry and leather making. Two cricuts, electronic cutting machines that can cut designs in materials such as vinyl or cardstock, are available as well, in conjunction with TechLab.
ArtsLab hosts a variety of events ranging from community-wide ‘sip and paints’ to events with clubs, like sticker making with Complex Residence Hall or light-painting with Photo Club Emory.
After graduating from Emory, Etika became a Rosemary McGee Arts Fellow, a one to two-year post-baccalaureate program for recent graduates. The position gave her the backing to start ArtsLab.
With the goal of creating a space that fit the artistic needs of students, she interviewed around 200 students. The interviews provided a basis for the materials ArtsLab furnished that fall, such as charcoal and different types of paint. Etika also contacted peer institutions outside of Emory to learn about their art spaces and created a budget with detailed inventory, down to the cost of every paintbrush.
In May of 2021, Emory Arts allotted a classroom in Cox Hall as a space for the new visual arts space. The University modified the room to fit the exact purpose of the center by installing a sink, taking down a wall and ripping up carpet.
“All of that happened in two months over the summer, so it was really exciting to find this partnership,” Maggie Beker, the student engagement project coordinator for Emory Arts, said.
ArtsLab hosted its soft opening on Sept. 7, 2021. Since then, the space has gained more material and supplies to fill the shelves, and the walls have blossomed with student art.
“We did a lot of care to listen to students and we want to continue to do that,” Beker said. “Should any students … be interested both about what they can do in this space and what this space could become with their input, we want to hear it.”
Since its inception, Artslab has quickly become a staple in the Emory community.
“When we first opened, a student was so thankful that she made us a little hat, so I 3D-printed a dog at TechLab, painted it here and now that’s our little guardian,” Etika said.
In addition to providing supplies for individual artists, the Lab provides supplies for free to student groups to encourage creativity.
“On an event night, there’s no cost to people to create, which is a nice low stress experience,” Beker said.
One of the most popular events ArtsLab held this year was the ‘paint and pinot’ event, a paint and sip where students had access to free drinks and art supplies.
“At the paint and pinot event, almost all of the boxed wine was full. People were just so engrossed, there were people sitting on the floor, they were just painting and drank nothing,” Beker said. “We thought the draw would be the food and drink but the draw was the arts.”
The project has also helped University students launch their own artistic projects. Cara Clements (22C) runs her business, Cara Mak Design, using materials and resources from ArtsLab.
Clements started the lifestyle boutique and design company as a hobby during quarantine to focus on creating female apparel and accessories. ArtsLab allows her to continue her business through her website and Etsy from Emory.
Clements, who sells wholesale stickers through her business, frequently uses the t-shirt press and sewing machines at Artslab for her apparel lines. She said that the center is a great resource because of “the accessibility it gives students, especially students like myself that own businesses who don’t have the space in their own rooms to have equipment or different resources.”
After checking out ArtsLab during its soft opening, Clements became a regular and visited the center every other day.
“So many people on Emory’s campus are incredibly creative in a variety of ways, and [ArtsLab] gives students the ability to access the resources to continue to fuel those passions and to continue to learn new skills in terms of creativity,” Clements said.
Future initiatives at the ArtsLab include expanding into more mediums, such as 3D work — including hand building and modeling—as well as increasing awareness of the arts for all students.
“I’m also hoping to expand into art classes here like more casual ones where we can invite a professional artist and a local artist to teach maybe how to draw or how to paint,” Etika said. “Simple stuff that’s less intimidating and maybe more accessible to students.”
Though ArtsLab didn’t come in time for students while Etika was at Emory, future students will have what they did not.
“We’re in a really exciting time right now where everyone is interested, from students to administration in being a part of the arts on campus,” Beker said. “I’m just excited about that and to keep working towards more because it’s never enough. That’s the best thing about creativity: there’s always more you can do.”