Episode 25 | Attracting the Rural Creative Class

May 3, 2018

Show Notes:

In this episode, we’re joined by Stacy Spale, professor of interior design at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and Kenzie Klein, a student in the UNL College of Architecture, to discuss rural opportunities for interior design.

Chuck helped Spale’s class with their studio projects which were focused on investing in a rural community and using design to attract the creative class in the rural areas of Nebraska and beyond.

Quick Links:

Full Transcript:

[0:02] Welcome to the Rural Futures Institute [0:04] at the University of Nebraska. I’m Chuck Schroeder. [0:06] I’m executive director of the institute, [0:08] and this is our weekly look at interesting people who [0:12] are having an impact on rural. [0:14] With me today are two pretty darn interesting folks. [0:18] Stacy Spale, is an instructor at UNL’s [0:21] College of Architecture in the interior design area. [0:24] And joining us is Kenzie Klein, a student, [0:27] at the College of Architecture, from Cozad. [0:30] So Stacy and Kenzie welcome. [0:33] Thank you (laughing) Thanks! [0:34] Glad to have ya here. Okay! [0:36] Stacy you gave your students a very interesting challenge, [0:41] that led to an interaction with the Rural Futures Institute. [0:45] And, we’ve been having a lot of fun [0:46] over the last few months. [0:48] So, we were pretty intrigued when you asked us [0:51] to make a presentation to your students, [0:53] in preparation for this project that is [0:56] designed to, if I can read it, [0:59] investigate the creative class. [1:02] And discover what relationships and opportunities exist [1:05] with this demographic in rural areas, [1:09] particularly in Nebraska. [1:11] I thought that was cool. (laughing) [1:12] So tell us what sparked the idea and [1:15] what you hope to get out of it?

[1:17] Absolutely, so our teaching approach [1:19] really used to be typology based. [1:21] In traditional interior design education you do a [1:23] residential project, then you do a hospitality project, [1:26] and a retail project and, [1:28] that’s really a great way to learn some of the fundamentals. [1:31] But as we prepare our students to become, [1:34] 21st century leaders who can solve really complex [1:37] problems between people and space, [1:40] we decided to take kind of a different approach [1:42] with the advanced studios, so. [1:44] We really decided to take more of an issue based approach. [1:48] And we’ve done projects like this in the past, [1:50] where we look at topics like, food in the city [1:53] and look at what relationships exist there. [1:55] What opportunities are there? [1:56] How can we as interior designers, [1:58] solve really complex problems? [2:01] So, really its just the strategy is allowing students [2:04] to think really critically about something, [2:07] and come up with their own unique, [2:12] real and modern ways of solving problems [2:14] through using space, so. [2:16] This year we decided to do rural Nebraska [2:19] and the creative class. [2:21] And looking at all the opportunities, that exist. [2:24] And rural Nebraska has a ton of under utilized space. [2:27] Sure. So allowing our students to [2:29] really looking at this problem and [2:31] seeing how can impact communities, so. [2:34] We were hoping that this would allow them to use design [2:37] research, which is where we wanted to partner with you. [2:39] I didn’t want them relying based on stereotypes, [2:42] or what they think they know about rural Nebraska. [2:45] Sure. [2:46] So we wanted them to create an informed point of view [2:49] with their research groups and use that, [2:51] to engage them in an individual, kind of proactive role. [2:55] And we have 26 students who came up with [2:57] 26 really unique solutions, to this problem.

[3:01] Well, it was, for us it was fascinating because [3:04] we believe that solving problems in rural areas [3:08] and building thriving rural communities, [3:10] means crossing a lot of disciplines and a lot of [3:13] interest areas, bringing resources together, [3:16] to solve these complex problems. [3:19] And it was really fun to engage with you [3:21] and your students on this. [3:23] So, Kenzie, you were on the receiving end of [3:27] That I was. (laughing) this challenge. [3:29] And uh, and you took it up in earnest. [3:31] You’re a Cozad, Nebraska girl. [3:33] I want you to tell our audience a [3:35] little bit number one, about you [3:38] where you came from and kind of your family, [3:41] that led you in this direction and then, [3:44] and what you’re preparing for career wise.

[3:46] Okay, so again like Chuck said I’m from Cozad. [3:50] My dad is a construction contractor kinda guy. [3:53] And then my mom’s a high school special education teacher. [3:58] And she’s always been very crafty so, [4:00] kind of their interests together kind of shaped [4:03] me into this interior design realm. [4:05] Um, for my project I based it out of Cozad. [4:08] And then I did a youth development space, [4:11] kind of mixed with a community element, so. [4:13] Just a really good space for the community to come in, [4:16] and for youth to really develop those skills [4:18] that they’re not always exposed to. [4:20] Something that I was never exposed to at least, [4:22] (laughing) – Sure, Sure. in my time in Cozad. [4:25] Well and the building you chose [4:27] Yeah if I can add this. [4:28] Kenzie’s told me a really great story that, [4:30] when she was growing up she used to practice [4:32] hitting softballs indoors, (laughing) in the building. [4:35] We had softball practice upstairs in the building that I, [4:37] utilized for my space. It was awfully and nasty. [4:41] Ew, it was gross. (laughing) [4:42] There was carpet everywhere, it was bad. [4:44] It was terrible. It’s a great example of, [4:46] under utilized space. (laughing) [4:47] Under utilized space, for sure. [4:49] But you come from this community where, [4:52] the creative arts are [4:53] It’s huge. very much apart of its history [4:55] And that just intrigued me as I saw your project unfold. [5:00] And that was something that I really [5:02] wanted to incorporate in my project too. [5:03] Was just kind of providing a space for, [5:05] that art to get displayed and utilized. [5:07] Or potentially bringing in different art exhibits [5:09] to really develop that, art love, I guess. [5:13] Sure, Sure. [5:14] That’s in small town Nebraska, [5:16] er, that’s not really in central Nebraska in general [5:18] I guess, so. Yeah. (laughing) [5:20] Well I just, I love the spirit of that. Okay, so.

[5:23] Stacy, I think it’s important for our audience [5:26] to understand that you have not just been a [5:29] denison of the ivory tower (laughing) [5:31] through the course of your career. [5:34] You spent four years at Clark Enersen Partners, [5:37] a big design firm that’s worked on big corporate projects. [5:41] You’ve worked in a smaller firm actually with [5:45] a lot of focus on rural health care facilities. [5:49] Tell us a little bit about your life and career. [5:52] And what led you to now this really important teaching role [5:57] where you’re taking really a rather unique approach.

[6:00] Absolutely, so first off I’m a Nebraskan native. [6:03] I grew up here, I’m from here. Went to UNL. [6:06] And I actually now teach in the program [6:08] that I graduated from. [6:10] Which, if you would have told me that when I graduated [6:13] I would’ve not believed you. (laughing) [6:15] But I was really lucky to have fantastic mentors along [6:17] the way who gave me a really hopeful vision for what [6:20] the profession of what interior design is truly capable [6:23] of and what we’re capable of doing as designers. [6:26] So, like you said my experience at the [6:29] Clark Enersen Partners was fantastic. [6:31] And taught me a lot about working [6:33] in a multidisciplinary firm. [6:35] You know, we had all of the different services in house [6:39] and really I learned a lot about narrative in architecture [6:42] and telling a story with space. [6:46] Then my experience at Visions in Architecture was a very [6:49] small very focused on rural health care approach and there, [6:52] I really gained an appreciation for evidence based design. [6:55] And through the curriculum now we’re trying to really [6:58] integrate a lot of design research, into it.

[7:00] So, you know, one of my favorite stories [7:03] actually from that experience is, [7:04] we had a client in rural Nebraska who had a problem [7:08] with patient falls in their hospital. [7:10] And through interior design changes only, [7:12] we were able to reduce their patient falls by 80%. [7:16] Wow! [7:16] And you know that’s just really, [7:18] those kind of stories tell the, shows the power [7:21] and the transformative power of interior design. [7:24] And that’s what I love sharing with the students. [7:26] So when I was at that small firm, [7:28] I actually kind of fell into teaching. [7:30] I was substituting, one of my friends was teaching [7:33] Intro to Design, was gonna have a baby. [7:35] So, I was like yeah this sounds like fun! [7:37] There’s life (laughing) I can do it, yeah [7:38] And I fell in love with it. [7:41] I fell in love with helping the students [7:43] craft their own story of what interior design really is. [7:46] A lot of them and their families and their peers [7:48] don’t understand the profession. [7:49] They think we’re picking out pillows and you know, [7:52] accessorizing is a very, very small portion of what we do. [7:56] But it’s so great, to help them tell their story. [7:59] And to teach through the stories of my professional [8:02] experience, you know. [8:03] If I see people disengaged in a lecture I’ll say, [8:06] here’s a time in the real world when this actually [8:08] was applicable, you know. [8:10] And, so that becomes really rewarding. [8:14] And really I just love watching them grow. [8:16] So seeing them come in from a freshman, [8:19] to seeing the changes they make as sophomore and a junior [8:22] and a senior as they graduate, its so great. [8:25] It’s just so rewarding to see their [8:27] creative confidence grow and their ability to solve [8:30] really complex problems and their ability to present. [8:33] It’s just the best.

[8:35] Well I just have to say, speaking of your students [8:37] and I wanna talk about that just a little bit. [8:40] Cuz from that first day (laughing) [8:42] when we presented and Caitlin and I collaborated [8:45] on that engagement and we didn’t know what to expect. [8:50] (laughing) [8:51] And I thought it was very possible that we would [8:53] have students that would say “oh rural” [8:56] (laughing) [8:58] And which just did not happen. [9:00] They were engaged, they asked great questions. [9:04] And, I’ve now had the opportunity on three occasions to [9:08] engage with your students and provide them some feedback [9:12] and get to know ’em a little bit. [9:14] And enjoy dreaming with them about what these projects [9:17] could do for a rural community. So Kenzie and Stacy. [9:21] I’d like both of you to talk a little about [9:25] those 26 students in that class. [9:28] Because they’re very diverse. [9:31] They come from global perspectives in many cases. [9:37] And even as we talk often here [9:41] about crossing the rural urban divide, [9:43] you have clearly urban based students there very engaged [9:48] in how to make a thriving rural community work, so. [9:52] I’d like for you to talk a little bit about [9:54] the students in that class.

[9:56] So I mean, we do we have 26 really diverse people [9:58] from small towns like me up to bigger, [10:01] way bigger cities, Chicago areas. [10:03] So I mean, its interesting to kind of see how [10:05] everybody takes a different approach on their different [10:08] projects that they have and how their backgrounds and like [10:11] ideas all play into that. [10:12] Yeah [10:14] Yeah, we’ve got some nontraditional students, [10:16] like you spoke about so its really cool just to see [10:18] how everybody’s background really plays into everything. [10:21] Yeah. I love seeing the diversity in their solutions [10:24] and where they decided to site their solutions, so. [10:26] In the beginning phases, you know, we said [10:29] here’s your broad topics to research. [10:31] And it was kind of fun to see their individual strengths [10:33] come through in what types and places that they sought [10:37] out for these projects. [10:38] So we’re having students use everything from, [10:40] abandoned churches to, you know, [10:43] under utilized quonsets Yes. [10:45] (laughing) I love the quonset projects. [10:47] We saw some of those so. yeah. [10:51] It’s just a really, it’s a really great class. [10:53] And it’s so fun to see all the wide [10:56] variety of solutions that they propose. [10:58] And we are even able to think about it a little bit [10:58] from the business aspect. [11:02] Right. So some of our students [11:02] are very business minded and, you know, [11:05] we talked about what’s the value proposition? [11:07] Why are people gonna go here? How are you gonna market this? [11:10] Could it exist in real, you know, real life? [11:13] Could this really come to fruition, [11:16] be profitable, all of that stuff. [11:18] So it’s a very cohesive approach [11:19] and its fun to see their individual strengths. [11:22] Okay, so you have at least one international student [11:25] Yes, mhm. [11:26] That, whose project actually the first time that I saw it [11:29] Yes, yeah was in these final reviews. [11:31] That was, brought a, (laughing) [11:32] quite an interesting perspective. [11:35] To what a rural community attracting artists [11:38] might really look like. [11:41] Absolutely It made made me wanna go [11:42] Oh I’ll tell you that. [11:43] Absolutely (laughing) absolutely!

[11:45] Well listen, ya know, each time I sat through [11:49] a review of these projects. [11:51] I just couldn’t help but think about the impact that these [11:56] projects could have on potentially thriving rural [11:59] communities, in today’s world. [12:02] It wasn’t a matter of trying to slip back to some bygone era [12:06] it really was responsive to interests, [12:10] uh in today’s world. I thought that was fun. [12:14] Ya know, two things that we know about creativity and uh, [12:18] during my time in Oklahoma I had a chance [12:20] to be face to face with Richard Florida whose done [12:23] some of the Seminole research around the creative class, [12:28] and two things that he said are number one, [12:31] creativity is an unlimited resource that is constantly [12:35] renewed and improved by education [12:37] and by the interaction of human beings. [12:41] And I thought that was important. And second, [12:45] in thinking about these projects, he said, [12:47] smart, talented people are attracted to a place [12:51] where there are other smart, talented people. [12:55] So listen, what’s next for these projects? [12:59] Are there communities that have some [13:03] interest in taking them up? [13:05] Do the students have some ideas about uh, [13:08] actually going and presenting to city council, or [13:11] (laughing) [13:13] the smart creative people in a community, what’s the plan?

[13:17] Absolutely, well the students are really in charge [13:19] of telling their own stories. [13:20] So a lot of them are starting off telling that [13:23] through their Instagram accounts, [13:25] it’s a very accessible resource, [13:27] Sure. um you can look up, [13:28] #UNLArchitecture, #UNLInteriordesign, to see some of those [13:32] as they, kinda make it publish worthy. [13:35] (chuckling) Some of their results. [13:37] And the other thing, is I’ve encouraged a lot [13:39] of the students that did very site specific research. [13:42] I’ve encouraged them to reach back out [13:44] and share their results. [13:45] You know, if they’ve called the town librarian. [13:47] Sure. If they’ve called you know, [13:50] if they’ve surveyed people and they have their email address [13:52] to share their results and start that communication [13:54] cuz, we know a lot of these projects would take a [13:56] significant, capital investment to see. [13:59] Right. [14:00] However, they can really start the conversation [14:03] and that’s what I think is so exciting is, you know [14:07] people can, there’s one student whose gonna take [14:10] her project back to the hometown that she grew up in [14:13] and post it in her dad’s auto store. [14:16] And just really start the conversation that, [14:18] look we have space we can do some exciting things with it. [14:23] And to start to attract that creative class [14:25] Exactly. in different people. [14:27] To come and experience rural Nebraska itself, [14:29] and hopefully fall in love with it. [14:30] True, true. Yeah, absolutely. [14:32] So they’re in charge. I just was, honestly [14:34] I was pleased that you didn’t say to your students, [14:37] we begin with, okay there are limited resources [14:41] Right, right and it may be hard [14:42] to raise the capital because quite honestly we tell [14:46] ourselves that myth sometimes and I think about at Cozad. [14:50] You have people who have invested back in your community. [14:54] In making change and we, in fact, [14:56] when you look at the six factors that we think describe [14:59] a thriving rural community one of those is, [15:02] a willingness to invest in ourselves. [15:06] And there are communities that are doing that, so. [15:09] I just think some of those projects may have more potential [15:13] traction than even the students think they do. [15:15] Oh, absolutely. If, uh, if folks in the [15:17] community are willing to make those investments would say [15:20] here’s a little risk that we’d be willing to take, so. [15:25] I hope that happens. [15:27] Yeah, me too. Yeah, I really do.

[15:29] Well listen, to both of you we often say at [15:33] the Rural Futures Institute that thriving hi-touch, [15:37] hi-tech rural communities, [15:39] which is our big area audacious goal, [15:41] is not a one size fits all proposition. [15:45] Its really requires thinking creatively around the unique [15:49] assets in a community and then encouraging, empowering, [15:54] future focused leaders to jump on [15:57] those opportunities. Take the risk. [16:00] Make the investment to make something happen, so. [16:03] I just think you’ve done something really special with this [16:06] class and I hope through the Rural Futures Institute [16:09] we can continue to help telling that story. [16:12] Encouraging our audience that might be interested in [16:16] some of these projects to be in touch. [16:18] We would be happy to be that conduit, if that is necessary.

[16:23] But anyway, anything else either of [16:25] you would like to add today? [16:27] No, I think this was just such a great opportunity. [16:29] Thank you for all your resources [16:31] and coming to help our students. [16:32] It really broaden their minds to what interior design [16:36] can do in rural Nebraska. [16:38] And I think that’s super exciting. [16:39] Great fun. [16:41] So Kenzie, what are you gonna do with your life? [16:43] (laughing) [16:45] I’ll actually be returning to [16:47] hometown area after college, [16:49] hopefully to starting my own small interior design firm. [16:52] Maybe partnering with my dad and [16:54] doing some custom homes, or something. [16:56] I’d love to incorporate, after this project, [16:58] kind of that rural development side. [17:00] Sure. [17:00] It’s really sparked a lot of my interest, so [17:02] (laughing) [17:03] Yeah, hopefully. we’ll see what happens. [17:05] We’re gonna be cheering for ya. [17:06] Thank you (laughing) This is super.

[17:08] Well listen folks, I want you to stay in touch with the [17:10] Rural Futures Institute through our website. [17:13] Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. [17:16] All of those tools. We’re gonna be back next week. [17:19] Meeting more real people talking about real places that [17:22] demonstrate thriving rural communities are legitimate [17:26] best choice for worth while living. [17:28] Thanks for joining us.



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