Stanford students create a mobile art studio that rolls with learning opportunities

A Stanford student-built mobile art space offers rewarding experiences in creativity and sustainability.

Mobile art studio on wheels

The portable art studio built by Stanford students at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve last year pays a visit to the Anderson Collection at Stanford. (Image credit: Maia Paroginog)

Three weeks before most Stanford students arrived on campus to start fall quarter 2015, Stanford guest artist David Szlasa was building a portable art studio with a small group of students at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. The studio was built from salvaged scrap material available at the Jasper Ridge maintenance site.

Eleven students enrolled in Szlasa’s September studies Arts Intensive course, “Tiny Eco Houses for Artists: Social Practice, Design/Build.” The objective of the three-week course was to build a mobile “maker space” – a place where artists can create art – for visiting artists.

But during the last week of the course the students found themselves invested in more than the building project. They lobbied for an ongoing role in developing the programming, particularly for student studio time.  

When Studio 2 finally became DMV-certified and road-ready during winter quarter, it rolled onto campus to take up temporary residency for two weeks in front of the Anderson Collection where the Arts Intensive students returned for “micro-residencies,” or short-term usage, in the maker space. Each student signed up for a four-hour shift that revolved around his or her particular art interest. Their micro-residencies ranged from writing to drawing to a monotype workshop.  

Stanford senior Kevin Zhai, who combined digital art with live guitar performance during his shift, was delighted to see his summer project in use.

From the inside out

“Having the studio on campus was great,” he said. “It was the catharsis to what we had been working towards since September. It was very rewarding to talk to visitors about the space I had helped create while we were literally inside of it.”

Originally based in Oakland, Szlasa designed his first rolling maker space, Studio 1, in 2014 in an effort to find a permanent solution for his workspace needs as an artist in the highly competitive Bay Area real estate environment. He immediately saw the scalable potential of an eco-, micro- and mobile studio. Szlasa launched a business of building tiny studios for artists and “creative” the same year, and Studio 1 now travels the country as a pop-up exhibition space offering micro-residencies to professional artists. He now lives in Germantown, NY.

Sarah Curran, the associate director of Stanford Arts, recognized that Szlasa’s Studio 1 was a solution to an urban problem. She also realized that students could adapt the model to create something unique in the Stanford spirit.

Art and sustainability

“I saw an opportunity to create a hands-on learning opportunity to engage issues of space and sustainability when it comes to art-making,” Curran said.

Curran calls the collaboration with Jasper Ridge, the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Stanford – which sponsored the Arts Intensive course – and the Anderson Collection both productive and exciting.

“Not only was the build and design of Studio 2 a hands-on educational project, but it will continue to serve as a hub of learning in classes, workshops, and individual studio time, both on campus and hopefully at Jasper Ridge,” she said.

Philippe S. Cohen, who recently retired as the executive director of Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, was instrumental in bringing Szlasa’s course to the preserve. He planted the seed of using Studio 2 as a space for a Jasper Ridge artist residency.

Cohen said, “I am convinced that there is much about the experience of discovery that scientists and artists have in common and that they can learn from each other. I hope the mobile art studio will expand opportunities for students, faculty and visiting scholars in the arts and humanities to experience Jasper Ridge and engage with the more traditional research and education community at the preserve.”

The new executive director of Jasper Ridge will decide if or when Studio 2 will host artists on the preserve, but the studio will definitely spend part of each year on the main campus, somewhere, where students can use it. The beauty of a mobile studio is that it is ready to roll just about anywhere.

Media Contacts

Robin Wander, University Communications: (651) 724-6184, robin.wander@stanford.edu
Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224, cbparker@stanford.edu