OpenGrounds, Broad Opportunities
Students explore innovations within University, Charlottesville communities
If you entered OpenGrounds last Friday, you would have found a master class of musicians sitting around a table assisting a young composer with her new piece. Holding a piece of sheet music, the group discussed the arrangement, and then, with a click of a mouse, the piece resounded through the 1,200 square-foot Corner studio. The class was held last Friday as part of a program coordinated through the University music department.
But there’s more to OpenGrounds than the occasional class. It’s not a musical center but an “innovation hub,” said OpenGrounds founding director Bill Sherman, an associate professor of architecture. He described the studio space as a place for students, faculty and outside partners of the University to connect and share ideas.
Vice President for Research Tom Skalak has also thrown his weight behind OpenGrounds. His office helped fund the renovation of the Corner studio for its opening last March. Sherman said OpenGrounds’ goal is to create an interdisciplinary space that enables the University to “tackle challenges that no one school can take on, and to do that in a way that can have a real impact on the world.” Many bridges already exist crosses departments in the University, Sherman said, and OpenGrounds intends to connect rather than compete with existing structures.
OpenGrounds is located by the Corner, in the same building as the Women’s Center and the Center for Global Health. The organization’s website lists several different fellows, some of whom are University alumni, who are working with outside organizations and want to support OpenGrounds’ mission.
Universities, especially their humanities’ departments, need to be proactive to ensure they weather the federal and state budget cuts that are threatening institutions across the country, Sherman said.
“It’s clear that as institutions, we as public universities need to be far more visible and vocal about our role and impact in the world,” Sherman said. “Part of the diminishing resources from the state — a national phenomenon — is because people don’t see the value … but nobody else has the type of culmination of intellectual resources and knowledge that universities have. And by tying ourselves together, and being perceived as an organization that has impact on the world, we can be perceived by the public as having a new kind of role.”
Students are starting to see the benefits of the studio too. Several University groups, including EngageUVA and Flash Seminars, have used the studio as a meeting place, and fourth-year Engineering student Olivia Jeffers said she plans to use OpenGrounds as a site for academic discussions.
OpenGrounds also hosts ‘Open Hours’ as a time for students, faculty and community members to come to OpenGrounds to work and collaborate. Dave Norris, executive director of the Charlottesville Institute, holds office hours in an effort to connect University students with the greater Charlottesville area. During these ‘Open Hours,’ students are able to access the wide variety of technology available at OpenGrounds, including two computers attached to touch screens, audio equipment and a set of six projectors.
A similar initiative is ‘Open Tables,’ a series of discussions held at lunchtime at OpenGrounds. Graduate Arts & Sciences student Suzie McCarthy is currently planning a series about social media for the center.
In addition, fourth-year College student Kenny Perez, one of OpenGrounds’ student interns, has been working on an application to allow community members to stream conversations from the studio space.
“The app is about bridging the gap between physical and virtual networks,” Perez said.
Sherman has big plans for OpenGrounds. He said he envisions it not only as a physical meeting space but also a virtual network, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by social networking sites.
“It is new,” Sherman said. “We don’t know what it is going to look like in five years, so students can play a big role in shaping OpenGrounds and where it goes.”