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CNC Router: Joy Found & Shared

Brief Q & A with Staff Member Robin Schwartzman
August 4, 2020

Duck Duck What?

Duck Duck What?
Duck Duck What? 2018

"I love empowering students with digital fabrication skills, watching them become confident, independent machine users...."

Job titles often leave things to be desired. They rarely explain what a person does on a daily basis, nor what they are capable of doing. The Department of Art's 3D Fabrication & Technical Coordinator is Robin Schwartzman. One title for a person who regularly does many, many things. Robin is also an instructor, artist, designer, Area Technician for Drawing, Painting and Printmaking; and mini golf lover--most notably as a contestant on ABC's Holey Moley. Robin initially came from Out East to the University of Minnesota to pursue an MFA, but has since then made Minnesota her home and established her career as an artist and designer.

We connected with Robin to learn more about her roles in the Department, passion for mini golf, and what inspires her projects.

Q: What brought you to the University? 
Originally from Pennsylvania, I came to the U in 2008 for graduate school with a focus in Printmaking. Halfway into the program, I discovered the CNC router and have been hooked ever since! After I graduated in 2011, I actually helped start the early days of the XYZ Lab and worked there part time for a couple of years. I left in 2013 to pursue opportunities working at MCAD, the Minnesota Children's Museum and a local commercial fabrication shop as well as complete a 6-month artist residency in South Carolina. After gaining tons of skills from all of these experiences, I returned to the XYZ Lab full time in 2017 and have thoroughly enjoyed being able to now share these skills with others.

Q. Tell us about your job - what kind of projects do you do? How do you support students in growing their skills?
My job has so many different facets! Some people may recognize me from the XYZ Lab where I manage and train our awesome lab staff, upkeep all of our machines and even work one-on-one with many students on their laser cutter, CNC router and 3D printer projects. Others may recognize me as the Area Tech for Drawing, Painting and Printmaking, where I oversee the studio spaces, purchase supplies and manage hazardous waste. And on top of that, I also teach a class called 3D Modeling and Digital Fabrication, which focuses on how to create files for and use all of the machines in the XYZ Lab. I love empowering students with digital fabrication skills, watching them become confident, independent machine users and seeing the many different ways that they apply this technology to the creation of their own ideas.

While this fall requires a pivot in "the how," of the XYZ Lab, it will be more like a service bureau, students will still be able to complete their projects.

Q: Do you have a favorite question that you receive from students, faculty, or others when they first visit the XYZ Lab?
When people visit the XYZ Lab for the first time, it's usually a visual and tactile experience. We encourage them to look around at all of our demos and pick up sample pieces. And that is when I can often see their wheels start turning - when they realize just some of the capabilities of the technology and start to dream up how they can apply this to their own work. That's the spark that got me into this world and seeing other's excitement and curiosity about the possibilities is what keeps me going.

Q: As an artist, what's your elevator speech? (AKA how do you describe your work to people?)
I view fun as a catalyst for change. I design and create playful, large scale, temporary and often interactive art installations to create moments of joy that can be shared with a broad audience. I'm inspired by leisure spaces - amusement parks, miniature golf courses, playground, seaside resorts - and borrow visual and social elements from this culture, transforming them into new ways to experience ourselves, our communities and each other.

My work teeters between the art world and the design world. I use my creative voice to share joy and make people smile and laugh. Although it may not seem serious, I am very serious about what I do.

Q: Your work generally is focused on public engagement, including remarkable mini golf designs. How is the pandemic impacting your work? And, how did your passion for mini golf start?
Unfortunately, several mini golf design projects have been put on hold and Barder Boat, a carnival-inspired pop-up trading post that engages audiences through the act of barter, oral storytelling, and visual art, has been postponed to 2021. I did recently create a faux ice cream truck project for a friend's "ice cream social distancing party." Other than that, I've been making masks and doing small craft projects. 

My passion for mini golf began with my family. Growing-up miniature golf was definitely something we did together. In my adult life, it was my first date with my now husband, Tom Loftus, where we played at Big Stone Mini Golf out in Minnetrista.

Q: Do you have/have you had a mentor that has helped you explore your artistic path?
I've had many people who have helped me throughout the years, but when I was an undergraduate student at Syracuse University, I had a Professor named Holly who became an incredible mentor and friend. She really supported me, challenged me and ultimately encouraged me to move to the Twin Cities because she knew it was a place where I could realistically live as a working artist. Holly treated me more like a peer, never trying to act like the authority in the room, just listening. I take this same approach with students, just listening and offering words of advice and mutual respect. I will always cherish Holly's mentorship.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote or song/lyric or podcast or playlist?
It's super dorky, but there's a podcast called "Window to the Magic" that I enjoy listening to when I'm working in my studio. It's binaural audio recordings from the Disney theme parks where the host goes on different rides or experiences various attractions and records everything. It's fascinating to me because there's nuance in the contrast between the highly produced audio elements of the theme park experience and the everyday conversations that happen within that space, complete with fighting siblings, screaming children and gossip between co-workers. For me, that space between a carefully crafted world of imagination and the mundane moments of reality is what makes it so interesting.

Learn more about Robin's work & mini golf passion!