GE’s FirstBuild, which launched in summer 2014 as a makerspace and microfactory for open source appliance innovation, was the first corporation to sign-on to participate in XLerateART, selecting Jakub Szczesny, artist and architect from Poland as their innovation consultant. Combining Szczesny’s artistic expertise and FirstBuild’s engineering, The Louisville Table was brought from conception to production in less than 5 months.
Director of FirstBuild, Venkat Venkatakrishnan, said of the microfactory, “When we started [FirstBuild], the first people to do work here was IDEAS. We really wanted an artist in residence, but we didn’t know how to do it.”
Kevin Nolan, Vice President of Technology at GE, echoed this sentiment. “We sat down about a year ago and asked, ‘how we could get more innovative?’ There are lots of ideas in people’s heads, we think we’ve got good things, but big corporations sometimes do things over and over again.” The biggest driver behind FirstBuild was the need for innovation and creativity, which brought FirstBuild and IDEAS together. “Artists are never afraid, they’re always bold, and they’re always out there doing different things. So how would it be if we put art and engineering together? One of the first things we did was get together with IDEAS and asked if there were artists that wanted to come in and display their work and get us uncomfortable with being comfortable and vice versa. It is about being uncomfortable and trying different things and I think that the work that you will see and hear about [The Louisville Table] is the perfect example.”
The first, museum quality iteration of The Louisville Table was sold to a private collector. A DIY, competitively priced version for consumers and educators is being prototyped and will be launched by IDEAS and FirstBuild in 2015-2016. In additional to the DIY table, IDEAS and FirstBuild are structuring a year-long artist-in-residency program that will continue to infuse the FirstBuild environment with artist innovators. Because of their ongoing work with IDEAS and support of the Louisville arts community, FirstBuild was recognized by the Americans for the Arts as 1 of 10 Best Businesses Partnering with the Arts in 2015.