As Virginia Tech continues to unveil bold initiatives that meld traditional disciplines and existing academic and research strengths, the university has announced the formation of a Creativity and Innovation District along the eastern edge of campus where it intersects with downtown Blacksburg to fully support the complexities of innovation — from idea creation to commercialization.

President Tim Sands will speak to this and other innovative initiatives during his first annual State of the University address to be held at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, in the Moss Arts Center.

“The creation of the district is intended to enhance our distinctive strengths in 21st century creativity and collaborative innovation,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Thanassis Rikakis. “Creativity today is highly dimensional and inclusive. The district will therefore promote strategic partnerships among students and faculty on campus, the local community, and private companies and organizations.”

The Creativity and Innovation District designation will guide future thinking, repurpose assets, and create physical space that will leverage both creative and entrepreneurial activities — and spark powerful innovations that emerge at the intersection of these two efforts.

“Innovation is a process that begins with imagination and creativity and leads to real-world impact,” said Ben Knapp, director of the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology. “The district will support this work, providing collaborative facilities, tools, and technologies — from virtual environments to maker spaces — to translate ideas into commercial offerings.”

The district will make the most of existing programs and facilities already in the area, including the Moss Arts Center; the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology; the School of Performing Arts, including its performance space, Theatre 101; and the School Visual Arts.

It will also include the Squires Student Center, Newman Library, the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown, the Media Building, and the Media Building Annex. Several of the buildings will retain their traditional functions while providing additional spaces that foster creativity and innovation. The Media Building and the Media Building Annex will be allocated to the district. University Relations personnel in those buildings are relocating to the University Gateway Center to accommodate the expansion.

Small- and large-scale renovations and construction will soon be under way.  The resulting district will include interdisciplinary faculty clusters, composed of existing lines and new hires in two focus areas: Creative Technologies and Experiences, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship can be powerful forces in organizations of all types and sizes, in established businesses as well as new ventures,” said Derick Maggard, executive director of the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “The Creativity and Innovation District will bring together students, faculty, alumni, and corporate partners in an inspired and cutting-edge environment. We believe the district will unleash creativity, spark vision and innovation, and instill in tomorrow’s leaders the entrepreneurial mindset and skills that will empower them.”

Existing and new residential space will house living-learning communities related to creativity and innovation for interested students, artists in residence, entrepreneurs in residence, and faculty. The living spaces will incorporate studios, creative technologies, and shared learning spaces.

“We know that residential environments, thoughtfully conceived and constructed, can be powerful teaching tools,” said Frank Shushok Jr., senior associate vice president for student affairs. “This project represents one of the many tangible ways that Virginia Tech is harnessing the potential of the campus experience to develop what we call VT-shaped students—those who combine disciplinary depth with interdisciplinary understanding, experiential learning, and purpose-driven engagement.”

A key element will be future-facing libraries that support the research, learning, and curiosity of students and the community at large through technology, by providing collaborative and common spaces and by building accessible knowledge repositories.

A new initiative for digital humanities is being added to the Newman Library in collaboration with the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences to help students and faculty develop 21st century proficiencies ranging from multimodal authoring to nonlinear narratives.

“Libraries are where we can come together to solve problems,” said Tyler Walters, dean of University Libraries at Virginia Tech. “To sit at the intersection of creativity and innovation is exciting and essential.”

The district plans will also include “bridge spaces” that will allow companies, students, faculty, and researchers to work in close proximity to create, incubate, and bridge ideas into viable businesses and connect to existing innovation initiatives in Blacksburg, Roanoke, and the National Capital Region.

Initially, the bridge space concept will be piloted in existing spaces in the Creativity and Innovation District with the potential to expand to new spaces through public-private partnerships.

“The vibrancy of the district will become a key characteristic of the university and it will attract 21st century ‘creatives’ to Virginia Tech and Blacksburg,” Rikakis said. “The Creativity and Innovation District will be incorporated into the campus master plan, now under development.”

The goal by 2022 is to have 5,000 students, 100 faculty and significant number of external partners involved in cross university curricula, research, and engagement in these areas.

“Creativity and innovation are at the core of what our faculty and students strive for,” said Elizabeth Spiller, dean of College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “We recognize that technology alone is never a solution because creativity and innovation are fundamentally human achievements. In bringing together our collective strengths in art, knowledge-making, information technology, and the innovative thinking that is the hallmark of liberal education, the Creativity and Innovation District will help ensure that Virginia Tech students from every discipline have the tools and perspectives they need to achieve meaningful solutions to complex human problems.”

The concept of a Creativity and Innovation District in Blacksburg emerged as the more than 100 faculty members with insight into the five named Destination Areas and 10 Strategic Growth Areas have worked to overlay new ideas onto existing areas of teaching and research excellence. Full reports on this collaborative work will be presented to President Sands on Sept. 30.

Written by John Pastor

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