Collaboratory at Ringling College of Art and Design

January 2010–Present

Collaboratory at Ringling College of Art and Design

The Purpose

The Collaboratory at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, is a learning environment where businesses, nonprofits, governments, and other entities work with Ringling College students across disciplines. Students are guided by faculty to plan, propose, and design creative solutions for a specific problem or challenge. This environment enhances student learning by providing a variety of real-world scenarios beyond what is possible from the traditional studio experience. Through the Collaboratory, students put their skills to work in a professional setting by providing businesses and brands with creative, innovative, and relevant solutions.

Strengthening the Impact

Ringling College of Art and Design’s Collaboratory Commitment guarantees that every enrolled student will have the opportunity to participate in a professional work experience with real clients, real deliverables, and real deadlines before they graduate. These experiences prepare students for their careers, heighten the college's engagement with the professional world, and build a community of expertise to meet the demands of a constantly shifting global job market. The Patterson Foundation is supporting strengthening our community’s creative workforce of tomorrow through this approach to higher education.

FAQs Click on frequently asked questions below to learn more about this initiative...

Why does The Patterson Foundation support this initiative?

Through support from The Patterson Foundation, Ringling College of Art and Design is strengthening the student experience by connecting them with organizations that can benefit from creative problem solving and strategies. Experiential learning elevates students beyond classroom theory to dynamic participation in real-world work. These experiences are encouraging brighter futures for students, organizations, and our community.

Who leads the Collaboratory?

The Collaboratory at Ringling College of Art and Design is directed by Associate Vice President for Collaborative Enterprises Cynthia Gravino. She can be reached at She operates with a small staff and a variety of talented contract project facilitators drawn from Ringling College faculty and alumni.

What is the Collaboratory’s impact?

The Collaboratory at Ringling College of Art and Design began operations in summer 2013. A few pilot projects were undertaken in the first year, while the organization was being established, staff and initial faculty supporters recruited, and clients informed about what was possible. By summer 2014, the Collaboratory began offering services to clients and bringing students into the work, gradually developing the complex details of contract requirements for clients, how students would be compensated, what work students could display in their own portfolios, etc.

The Collaboratory opened a full schedule of client engagements in fall 2014 and continued to grow and thrive with multiple projects representing an array of clients, from small local businesses and nonprofits to global and Fortune 50 companies.

In fall 2015, Ringling College President Larry Thompson made the Collaboratory Commitment to all incoming students: Every student of Ringling College will have the opportunity to participate in real-world, real-time client work through the Collaboratory during their four years in college.

In summer 2015, the Collaboratory introduced its first immersive summer exchange program with Clemson University, bringing two Clemson communications students to work on Collaboratory client projects with Ringling students, and sending two Ringling students to Clemson. This program is designed to extend and grow into the future, as more and more universities sign agreements with the Collaboratory to enrich the interaction between Ringling students and both design and non-design majors in the U.S. and abroad.

How does the Collaboratory affect the Ringling College of Art and Design curriculum?

From the outset, the vision was that the Collaboratory would become an integral part of the Ringling College student experience. Since 2015, with the delivery of the Collaboratory Commitment, all Ringling College students have an opportunity to participate before they graduate. With the incorporation of Collaboratory elective classes in the Business of Art and Design program and the inclusion of Collaboratory projects into several other courses across departments at Ringling College, the process of integration is well underway.

The college further demonstrated its commitment to making the Collaboratory offerings a college-wide learning experience embedded throughout the curriculum by weaving the Collaboratory experience into its Quality Enhancement Plan submitted to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for accreditation evaluation. In addition, the Collaboratory, recognizing that its approach to experiential learning is challenging to some faculty more accustomed to the role of teacher/lecturer than guide/partner, has initiated training for interested faculty in how to conduct experiential learning.

How are businesses recruited and selected to work with the Collaboratory?

The criteria for businesses to work with the Collaboratory are that the proposed projects present a challenge for Ringling College students, that the projects align with the students’ educational goals, and that the businesses commit time and energy to working with the students, critiquing their work, and compensating the Collaboratory for faculty and student involvement.

Some businesses find The Collaboratory by word of mouth; some businesses are attracted by previous engagement with Ringling College faculty or students; some are sought out for the potential they offer. In its first years of operation, the Collaboratory worked with both for profit and nonprofits organizations in law enforcement, public/municipal services, start-up businesses, as well as the automobile, food and beverage, film, gaming, finance, and private hospitality industries. It also formed partnerships with other educational institutions, nationally and internationally, so that students could interact with off-campus peers.

How have clients responded to the Collaboratory process?

You can find client responses on the Collaboratory at Ringling College of Art and Design website. Here is a typical client comment from one of the first businesses to seek help with the Collaboratory: "We were absolutely thrilled with the quality of the design concepts we received. Investing in this charrette was one of the wisest business decisions we've made for our new restaurant and bar." Also, some examples of collaborations between students and clients are detailed in this 2016 article.

How have students responded to the experience?

Overall, the students have been extremely positive about their Collaboratory experiences and eager to sign on for more. Some of the most frequent comments point to the significance of delving into the details of a real-world problem and having to understand the clients as well as the situation; discovering the benefits of working with students from different majors on the same projects, where many talents must be brought together; and experiencing the satisfaction of seeing their work come to life in the real world.

Does the Collaboratory plan to extend its influence beyond Ringling College of Art and Design?

On the immediate horizon is the development of an enterprise to offer start-up support for Ringling College graduates so that the emerging creative community can start thinking about the impact of their enterprises beyond their studios. To help them realize the commercialization process and infuse their creativity with service design, branding, and communications, the Collaboratory is establishing a collaborative educational program where new creative ventures will find opportunities, business training, and guidance as they enter the new markets created by a focus on service design across industries.

How can artists and creative talent coming to the area get involved with the Collaboratory?

Contact for information.

Who can I contact about the Collaboratory at Ringling College of Art and Design initiative?

For more information, contact initiative consultant Michael Corley:
Learn more about the Collaboratory as clients share their experiences working with Ringling students
(total time: 9 mins 53 seconds)

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