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Emma Riley
Excellence Award Winner
Sculpture and Functional Art
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Sculpture and Functional Art transcends perceived boundaries to discover new and dynamic ways of shaping space and engaging senses.

Picture this: you’re walking around a new art exhibition, eyeing each piece and watching others point and converse about the work. But what if you could touch and experiment with the art? I investigate this question by breaking down the fourth wall between artist and viewer. Through the lens of fine art, theatre, and set design, I explore how curating spaces and media can invoke audience interactions.

I work to topple the loftiness of tradition by empowering my audience with means and permission to create. Disrupting traditional performance and installation art, I invite people to choose from a plethora of goos and quirky objects to alter what I present. I experiment and explore as both studio and exhibition practice. 

Julie Taymor once said, “An artist is an entertainer, number one – a storyteller who takes people someplace, who gives them what they didn’t know they wanted.”  I want my work to affect my audience by engaging more than their sight, allowing the multisensory story of my art to unfold with them.

What is your most memorable

experience at KCAD?

My most memorable experience at KCAD would be my involvement with INTERSPACE, a club for artists of all disciplines to collaborate on transdisciplinary works with visiting artists to Grand Rapids. I was able to work closely with The Moon, a local creative studio run by KCAD Assistant Professor Natalie Wetzel and Mark Andrus. These two artists were the advisors and/or collaborators behind many of the events I participated in and have become inspirations for my personal and professional work.


I worked with many artists on different projects like UK-based artist Bex Ilsley, GR band Hi-ker, and a red-carpet inspired fashion show. My most memorable experience was when I was able to design a small set for Hi-ker, and the INTERSPACE members helped me construct the set for ArtPrize’s Project 1. It became a significant professional project for my art career, and it taught me about the importance of client communication and visualizing a set from beginning concepts to the final product.

What are your most

notable accomplishments?

In 2018, I was asked to design a set for Grand Rapids news station 13 ON YOUR SIDE for ArtPrize 10. During this project, I proposed designs, constructed, and installed the set in collaboration with 13OYS and the Gerald R. Ford Museum of Grand Rapids, MI. I was advised and assisted by Professor Bob Marsh of KCAD.


In summer 2019, I was selected to be a part of the Backstage Internship of Circle Theatre in Grand Rapids, MI. I worked under Technical Director and Resident Scenic Designer Don Wilson along with two other interns for six months. Throughout the internship, we constructed six sets which taught me theatre construction skills and painting techniques. I will be interning again for the 2020 Summer Season.


In 2020, I exhibited the FAKE GALLERY and invited participants to destroy/mess up/interact with displayed art. The participatory installation gained attention in and outside of KCAD which delivered some great conversations about traditionalism and how to act in a gallery space.

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