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Arts and Entertainment

MSU's IDEA Commons Celebrates 10 Years of Innovation

We're focusing on the "innovation" this week, and as it happens June 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the IDEA Commons in center-city Springfield. I-D-E-A stands for "Innovation," "Design," "Entrepreneurship," and "Arts." The 88-acre area was developed by Missouri State University with the support of the City of Springfield and the Springfield Building Development Corporation. It's a collaborative community effort to rejuvenate downtown and stimulate economic development by renovating existing buildings, creating new jobs and retaining local talent.

At the center of the IDEA Commons stands the former Willow Brook facility of six buildings on Mill Street between Campbell and Boonville Avenues, now known as "Brick City." Four of the six buildings are occupied by Missouri State University Art and Design Department, but with space to accommodate commercial business ventures such as the locally-owned Marlin Company ad agency, marketing and communications company. It was formed in Springfield in 1985; their main headquarters moved into Brick City in 2010. Marlin's main focus is on creating marketing and identity for major companies in the food-service industry such as Frito-Lay, French's and Bush's Best. But Marlin also created a logo and marketing campaign for the Hotel Vandivort.  According to Marlin's Creative Director Matt Rose, an ad agency is actually a very logical fit for a complex anchored by the University's creative arts departments.

Says Rose, "You know, it's the cliche 'the merger of art and commerce, coming together.' There's marketing, which is planning and strategic development and everything like that, which leads to the space where the creative people then go and think. And at that point we engage the writers, the art director,s the designers.  And in this day and age, the developers, the coders, even the digital teams are all integrated in together. Pretty much everything we do ends up in a digital space--but we're still very much a pencil-driven company, and it's even still sketching and drawing and painting."

Vanessa Brandt, Marlin's Director of Account Services, says the firm makes good use of their proximity to the MSU Art and Design Department. "We get all of our younger kids from MSU. We bring them in sometimes as interns, sometimes as draft designers. And usually they fall in love with the company; they live here in Springfield, and they want to be here, so we make space for them. And the majority ofour folks stay in this space and want to continue to grow with the company."

Matt Rose feels advertising and marketing is one of the major growth areas in the art and design field, and Marlin's physical proximity to the MSU Art and Design program helps get the word out. "We have even the juniors and early underclassmen coming through and being exposed to, 'Hey, this may be an opportunity or an area to think about."

Representing the other part of that equation is Colby Jennings, Area Coordinator for the Animation and Digital Arts program in the MSU Art and Design Department.  While it's not the only arts discipline housed in Brick City that can engage in what he calls the "conversation between art, science, technology and even entrepreneurship, mine is one of the few that are really well-positioned to truly engage in that conversation, in terms of some of our students being able to go out and contract, and start up their own businesses, their own companies. I've had students do that, both here locally in the community who are working now, and lots of other places. Those creative skills are in high demand in a lot of places. And then I am helping coordinate the Electronic Arts program.  That consists of four different tracks: video studies, animation, interactive new media, and audio."

Being a working artist himself, as well as a faculty member, Jennings still believes in the value of a general liberal-arts education and in the creation of "art for art's sake."  But much of what he teaches his students--and the areas of employment they are going into after graduation--tends heavily to involve technology, and especially creative coding--that is, utilizing computer programming to create and produce art.

One of Colby Jennings's students, after finishing up his senior project for the Electronic Arts program, "is now interning with a small company that is particularly focused on developing experiences, projects and  applications for Virtual Reality. Well, this particular student's background in creative coding kind of put him in a really good position to be able to push the boundaries of what was available or what was possible. Not a lot of people really know what (Virtual Reality) entails, what it can do for them, how it can help them reach a greater audience, how it can help with educational purposes.  There's potential there--there's innovation there. And the artists who do have that creative coding background are in a good position to be able to at least collaborate with other individuals to come up with some of those solutions."

And being situated within MSU's IDEA Commons has helped inspire a lot of this innovation and collaboration, says Colby Jennings. "Just the idea that this thing exists--that this place exists--that it's set up for these reason, already changes a lot of the conversations that we have as faculty, both within our department and with people from other departments. So it already affects the conversation.  Changing the conversation changes the atmosphere, changes what's possible, changes the ability to say, 'Well, why not? Let's see.  Let's talk about it. Let's figure this out.' For that alone, it's incredibly important."

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