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Coming back to CULTURE CYCLE: re-making collegiality in the workplace

Angelina Russo co-creation craft culture culturecycle cyclespace cycling and design machine knitting maker making participation participatory design universities

2 years ago this month, on the advice of Dr Steven Fleming,  I ran a Kickstarter campaign called the Cyclists’ Pair.  Google Analytics told me that it was a hit with men aged 45-60 whose interests were outdoor activities, films and dating sites….

That audience didn’t get me over the funding line and I didn’t end up going into small run production of hand-cranked merino cycling socks. I did however, win the Australian Wool Fashion Design Award in knitwear and completed one more project – the data beanie (written up in the Canberra Times) before my merino cycling range was packed away and moved with me to Melbourne when I unexpectedly resigned from higher education.

Back in Melbourne and missing the collegiality that I had, until then, come to anticipate and love in my work environment, I gave up on knitting and focused on settling in.

For the next year I worked with Antonino Nielfi on the development of Fabricate Studio,  a venture which I love and which will continue to grow and flourish, and I voluntarily wrote and delivered a program on domestic digital fabrication for the Second Stitch Textile Enterprise  where I met and worked with some of the most extraordinary women but, the mortgage called and it was time to go back to full,  
paid employment.

Coming back to an academic environment proved more challenging than I anticipated. Having left as a full professor, I felt somehow alien in the increasingly centralised entrepreneurial university environment. While my MBA professors  had predicted that this would be a landscape for future higher education, I somehow continued to believe that “it couldn’t happen here”.
I’ve finally come to understand that this phase of sectorial dubiety  relies on social isolation in the workplace. Universities, previously bastions of collegiality, have had their hearts ground into their foundations.

So, because I love higher education, and I love making, I found a crack in the foundations where, like the fig trees and olive trees of my parents’ villages, I will send out tentacles and find a way of using my experiences to re-create a version of future networked collegiality in the workplace.   

First up, I found a kind and supportive environment in the Exertion Games Lab where I was welcomed without exception. With only my ability to review grants and supervise students to offer, I set about cleaning a space to establish a small desktop digital fabrication lab, still uncertain of how I could proceed. It was on a trip to Monash University SensiLab  that I came across this poster:

 Monash Consultation

and suddenly, the cogs started to fall into place. Inspired by the students’ desire to encourage meaningful encounters in the workplace, I began to write – and this is what I have come up with and would very much like your feedback on

MAKE BREAK is a nested package of maker programs that bring playful activity to the workplace in the form of ‘tinkering’ and ‘making activities’ purposefully taken during breaks in the work day. In collaboration with the award-winning Exertion Games Lab , CULTURE CYCLE will trial the following programs over the next 6 months. These will be a mix of research investigations and commercial endeavours and, by the end of the year, I should know whether there is a genuine gap in the knowledge on the impact of playful activity (making) as  a mechanism for creating future networked collegiality in the workplace.

In the crafting community, stash busting is not an illegal activity; it is the act of sourcing and sharing your ‘stash’ of yarn, fabric or other material with a group of like-minded individuals. STASH BUSTER is the introductory program, offered as a 3 hour workshop to councils, libraries, aged care homes etc – anywhere where people congregate. During the workshop, participants are introduced to digital pattern algorithm software and translate this into the development of simple household circular machine knitted products. In its first iteration, this includes hot water bottle covers, shopping bags and beanies.

In this 3 day installation situated (in the first instance in the Exertion Games Lab, RMIT), the lab opens to university staff for 2 hours a day (usually 12-2pm) and instruction is given on a digital fabrication skill which has been embedded in a traditional craft skill. Over this period the types of products we make are based on the digital fabrication equipment available to us. Luckily, the Lab has fantastic equipment so we can seamlessly shift from algorithmic knitting to laser etching, leather digital embroidery and simple reflective and conductive pieces. In future iterations we will tailor this program to the onsite facilities.

This is for those committed to growing collegiality either in the workplace or the community. CLINIC is a 3 day installation (with discretionary 4th day of exhibition and public talks) where the lab moves offsite to a setting embedded in an institution or community. Here, engaged with local council, community and cultural organisations, we partner with Fabricate Studio to deliver digital fabrication workshops in 3D printing, laser etching, digital embroidery and much more. As we are all pseudo doctors (that PhD has to be useful for something), we structure this time as a clinic where participants come to us with their challenges and we work through them to scope and prototype bespoke products and services.

MAKE BREAK – FORUM (The Romans made it an art form. What can I do?) is a symposium we organise and deliver to audiences engaged in making as either an academic or professional venture. We partner with LyndaKellyNetworks (founder of Museum3) to deliver a ticketed 2 day public event that showcases research and practice that underpin making in the workplace. In a theatrical setting that includes live performances, MAKE BREAK FORUM provides a gathering place of social significance, where discussion and debate can occur, where the collegiality of the program functions as a way of introducing a network of future makers (both academic and professional) to each other. Inter-generational and multicultural, we partner with leading cultural communication consultants Kape Communications and sustainability experts Equilibrium to address future challenges from a maker perspective. FORUM will usually run over 2 days and will include Masterclasses, symposium and making activities.

MAKE BREAK is a culmination of 7 years of research and practice. Throughout that time, I trialled every aspect of this program separately, not knowing how they would come together and now, at this very special time, I offer it as a possible approach to the value of making to the legacy of collegiality.

I would very much like your feedback and guidance as on this. Leave a message, email me at or leave me a message on Facebook.

It is only because of these extraordinary individuals that I could finally put this program together. They are: Narelle Lemon, Jeff Lewis, Philip Pond, Antonino Nielfi, Fotis Kapetopoulos, Steven Fleming, Paul and Tiffany Donnelly, Mei Mah, Stephie Donald, Jon Bradshaw Craig Batty, Marsha Berry, Caroline Butler Bowdon, Jonathan O’Donnell, Lynda Kelly, Brett McLennan, Ilka Priebe, Maxine Brooks, Tracy Ireland, Jordan Williams, Kaja Antlej, David Meegan, Will Tennent, Floyd Mueller, Frankston Foundry, The Moat, Sophia’s Frankston, Caspar Zikar, Tony Boffa, Jasmine Hanley, Klaus Frolich, Cynthia Dawson, Paula and Genevieve Meegan, Vince Dziekan, Deb Verhoven, Veronica Castro de Barrera, Charles Black, Denise Meredyth, Susan Luckman, Luby Ljubov Simson, Sarah Pearson, Ellie Rennie, Ross Parry, Jen Ross, Sian Bayne, Nick Harford, Stuart Kohlhagen, my  Ruby and Alex, my family and Jim,for having my back.



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