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Last weekend I went up to AS220 in Providence Rhode Island. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew it would be interesting. All I really knew about the group was what I had read on their website and some things Brian Jepson had told me at HOPE and other events.

I spent the day with some of the people at AS220. It was a Saturday, so it was kind of quiet and we were able to see a lot of studios without getting in the way. Here is how AS220 describes themselves:

AS220 is a non-profit community arts space located in downtown Providence. Our mission is to provide an unjuried and uncensored forum for the arts. If you live in the state of Rhode Island, you will get an opportunity to exhibit or perform at AS220.

AS220 has evolved into kind of an anti-institutional institution. We’ve done our best to present the various facets of the organization without using the word “program” to box in what are simply organized human activities in pursuit of a common mission.

The AS220 Labs:

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I spend most of my time on a tour of the facility and n the AS220 Labs. It is an amazing space where any Maker would feel right at home. They are constantly pushing technology and art in new directions. This is what the Lab’s main responsibilities are, but they go way beyond this list.

  • Build and maintain as220.org, with a focus on information design, back-end administration, and editorial guidance for the front page.
  • Organization-wide IT support: software and hardware help, planning and budgeting. The Lab is also responsible for in-house electronics repair and evaluation.
  • Training: in-house and community workshops, with a focus on developing literacy and technical skills in sound art, photography, video, and electronics.
  • Facilitate AIR projects of technology-oriented visiting artists, as needed.
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The Labs run a lot of workshops called “Make & Break”. Unfortunately I live too far to attend these events, but if you are close or like to drive, you should really check them out. Recently they had a “Build a Brain Machine with Mitch Altman” night that was a big success.

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There were a lot of amazing projects both finished and in progress in the AS220 Labs. One of my favorite projects was the Drawbot. Shawn Wallace was kind enough to give me a demo of the self-portrait drawing robot.

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Basically, you dial in the parameters that best match yourself, or someone else, and the robot attempts to draw a portrait. It is something you really have to experience in person to fully appreciate.

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It is amazing to see the pen move in various directions, finally creating a beautiful piece of artwork. AS you can see we chose a woman with a lot of hair for our test.

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Another one of my favorite works-in-progress was the Processing program that superimposed a mustache on your face, or any face it detected in the video.

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You could use a video feed, or the built in iSight on a Mac. Lots of fun! I was able to get a sneak-peek at “Phase 2″ of the project, and all I can say is AMAZING. I will definitely make a post on the blog when it is completed. Until then, you will just have to use your imagination.

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While we were in the Labs we got a chance to look at some of Jimmie Rodgers’ work. He brought an assortment of circuit bent toys that we all had a chance to play with.

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He also brought in his Open Heart project. You can read more about that here.

After several hours playing in the Labs, we continued our tour of AS220 [Thanks for the terrific tour Brandon!]

Artist In Residence: Mitch Altman

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AS220 has several Live/Work studios and Work Studios throughout the building.

AS220 offers residential and work space to artists who seek a diverse, stable and affordable studio environment. The residents of the third floor of Empire Street and the Dreyfus encourage a community of ideas rather than simply a community of tenants. Our goal is to create a cooperative living environment driven by the artistic energy of its inhabitants.

Luckily Mitch Altman, the inventor of the TV-B-Gone, was there during an Artist in Residence program and he was kind enough to show me his studio.

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Mitch had all sorts of neat projects in his studio. One of my favorites was the light-eating robot. It’s a bit picky and only responds to red light. You will know when it’s happy, because the tail starts to spin. Like the AS220 labs, I saw a few projects that were amazing, and in progress. Mitch promised me he would send me a link to his latest project when it’s finished.

Broad Street Studio:

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A big part of AS220 is the Broad Street Studio. It is an amazing program that serves the community of Providence and really makes a difference to hundreds of kids.

The Broad Street Studio (BSS) employs and engages Rhode Island youth in artmaking workshops, with an emphasis on those recently released from the state’s juvenile detention facility or in the care of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

I was there on a sunny, summer, Saturday so there weren’t a lot of people in the studio.

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I really have to go back during the school year, or at least a weekday, to learn more about everything that goes on in the studio. I saw some great artwork, and was able to check out the recording studio and gathering spaces. I think a lot of great things are going to come out of the Broad Street Studio.

Live performance space:

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Another cool part of AS220 is the live performance space. It has music, art, and spoken word performances almost every night.

AS220’s stage has long been one of the busiest and most consistently varied venues in Rhode Island. The open booking policy has been embraced by an astonishing array of performers, and since 1985, the performance calendar has grown steadily. As of the fall of 2001, AS220 is hosting 10-12 events each week. These presentations include theater, a wide variety of musical genres, spoken word, and anything else that Rhode Island artists have to offer.

Check out the calendar of events for the AS220 Performance Space.

The AS220 Bar:

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While you are there you can always enjoy a drink at the AS220 Bar or some EXCELLENT food at Taqueria Pacifica. Try the Limeade! [Thanks for the suggestion Brian]

A whole lot more:

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There is a lot more to AS220 that I didn’t get to spend a lot of time checking out. There is just so much amazing things going on and there are only so many hours in a day. I wish I had more time to check out the Print Shop, Photo Lab, The Stinktank, Recording Studio, or the other buildings that make up AS220. I guess I have a reason to go back! Oh, did I mention the Fools Ball?

If you are ever in Rhode Island or even near Rhode Island, you HAVE to check out what is going on at AS220.

Once again, a BIG Thank You to Brandon Edens for the fantastic tour, Kipp Bradford for the cool CNC ideas, Shawn Wallace for showing me your projects, Jimmie Rodgers for bringing your circuit bent toys, Mitch Altman for showing me your studio space, and Brian Jepson for organizing the whole trip.

There are a lot more pictures of my AS220 trip in my flickr photoset

Marc de Vinck

I’m currently working full time as the Dexter F. Baker Professor of Practice in Creativity in the Masters of Engineering in Technical Entrepreneurship Program at Lehigh University. I’m also an avid product designer, kit maker, author, father, tinkerer, and member of the MAKE Technical Advisory board.


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